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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Saratoga Casino Supporters Emerge

The battle has been joined in Saratoga, where a pro-casino group has emerged in response to the anti-casino SAVE group that we wrote about recently.  Destination Saratoga is the name of the new outfit, and if you think of have a notion of who is behind this, you're probably right.

 Destination Saratoga is a coalition of local officials, business leaders, small business owners, community members, and....... [ellipsis added by the blog administrator for effect]......Saratoga Casino and Raceway
Ah, yes.  Well, you didn't think that the harness track and its part-owner, and New York Gaming Association president, James Feathersilversteinamorenohaugh were going to take this sitting down, did you?

Here's their website, and their pitch is particularly insidious because it not only touts the economic benefits of jobs and potential revenue streams which they claim would result from what they call an "incremental expansion at a casino that has operated for decades, with a long-standing track record of responsible gaming," but it also details all of the horrible things that will happen to the town if the casino slated for the Capitol region goes to someone else.
 Q: What happens if the casino is built elsewhere in the Capital Region or goes to a developer other than Saratoga Casino and Raceway?

A: If the license for our region is granted to another developer, an out-of-state operator opening a behemoth Las Vegas-style casino in our community is a strong possibility. The residents of Saratoga don’t want that, and neither do we. If the casino goes elsewhere, then Saratoga Springs will not only miss an opportunity to reap the benefits, but our existing tourist attractions will actually be hurt by the competition. Saratoga Casino and Raceway will likely have to reduce its workforce – by as many as 240 jobs – and the City of Saratoga Springs would be in jeopardy of losing up to $700,000 and Saratoga County up to $240,000 annually.
And here we go. I mean, where should we start? Well, for one thing, I don't think that any gambling facility that is open from 9AM until 4AM every day of the year falls under the label of "responsible gaming." That's just nonsense, ridiculous.  And "a casino that has operated for decades?"  IT OPENED IN 2004!!! No, nobody is going to build a behemoth Las Vegas-style casino in the community, assuming that the harness track would keep its pledge not to. If Saratoga is chosen as the site, it will obviously be located there and not awarded to someone else. I wouldn't classify an alternate location such as, for example, Rensselaer as being in the community.  And the threat of job losses is just that; a threat, and a bullying and blustering one at that by the employer with the power to make that decision. And the small matter that the referendum was soundly defeated in the city of Saratoga Springs?  The question is actually raised on the FAQ page, and then totally ignored.  Because they don't care what the people decided.

As usual, we have, on one side, a grassroots movement talking from the heart about their concerns, based on real experiences in other locales, about the effect of a full-scale casino on their historic community and the local businesses therein.  And then, on the other side, we get the cynical bullshit from the guys with the money who want more. As I've been saying, I believe that this thing is in the bag for the harness track. But Jimmy Feathers is going to do what he can to sway public opinion, even if that takes threats and downright lies! Opeated for decades, seriously man, gimme a break.

 - Got in my email box the other day a link to this letter from Phil Langley, the president of the US Trotting Association, to Alex Waldrop, the NTRA president, in his Chairman hat at Racing Medication and Technology Consortium.  The gist of the letter, citing the frequency with which harness horses race and the different medication needs as a result, is that the existing rules for the use of clenbuterol and corticosteroids for standardbreds should not be changed because of the death and disarray turmoil in the thoroughbred and quarter horse industries.  And it gets a little pointed.
We certainly agree that Thoroughbreds need to be very careful in what they administer because history shows that breed of horse is very susceptible to catastrophic breakdowns.

Nonetheless, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved the standards set by Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Reform, and did so across all the breeds, which does not make the harness guys there happy at all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Few More Things

Let's get back to the thing about The New York Times, and their claim that an average of 24 horses die at racetracks each week.  I called BS on that stat in this post, and I was wrong.  Two errors on my part caused that misstatement:  for one thing, I totally missed the memo that that particular stat was based on an actual compilation of incidents, and not from the Times' parsing language from chart comments which may, or may not, really indicate a serious injury, no less a fatal one.  Completely missed the boat on that one.   And secondly, I was responding specifically to the following characterization of the Times' statistic from the much ballyhooed piece by Arthur Hancock III on Paulick's site: "According to the New York Times, every week in the United States, 24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing."  I used a back of the napkin calculation to cast doubt on that assertion.  In fact, what Hancock wrote is not what the Times said.  I should have gone straight to the source instead.

The source, as stated by Joe Drape himself on Twitter, is this state-by-state chart provided by regulators below, which appears down the right margin in the first of the Death and Disarray articles.

So, if you add up all the deaths, using the high estimate for Florida, you get 3,562 horses.  The study covers the three years from 2009 - 2011; so, if you divide 3,562 by 156 weeks, you, 22.83 horses.  Well, that's almost 24.  I guess the Times added some in for the states without data....those hotbeds of racing Arkansas and Idaho.  Or maybe they figured a week off each year around the holidays, in which case you get 23.28, and I remember from third grade math that you always round up when counting dead animals.

So, a few points.  For one thing, if you accept the generally accepted notion that the fatality rate is 2 from every 1,000 starts (and I know some people who don't), I think my calculation that the number is closer to 12-15 who die while racing is probably fairly accurate.

Getting back to Hancock's piece, his assertion that the "Times reported that 24 Thoroughbred horses die a week while racing" is patently false.  The Times did not report that.  It reported that 22.83 horses a week died during racing and training from 2009 to 2011.  (And that stat no doubt includes quarter horses as well, given the high number for New Mexico and, especially, the fact that half of the article in which it appeared was about that breed.)  I got yelled at on Twitter for being heartless when I made the distinction between racing and training deaths.  But I didn't make it, Hancock did, and falsely.  It's perfectly fair for me to correct that.  Nobody else seemed interested in doing so, not Paulick, nor all the people who sung the article's praises.  Besides being based on a bogus analogy with dog fighting, Hancock's appeal was based on a falsehood.  Actually, on two falsehoods, but we'll get to that shortly.

Drape tweeted that he always reports the truth.  But, as I've written before, his version of the truth is sometimes different from mine.  And the truth can come in different shades of truthfulness.  For example, Drape is recently fond of reporting that a poll of horseplayers showed overwhelmingly that they tend to bet less because of suspected drug use.  It is true that there was such a poll.  What is not acknowledged however is that, as I reported here, the survey smacked of being a push poll, with leading questions asked to respondents directed there by HANA and Thoro-graph, sites where anti-drug sentiment flourish.  That makes this truth a dubious one.  I know two people who tell me that they would bet less if they didn't have juice trainers to follow, and that there are more where they come from with a similar outlook.  I imagine I could go around the Aqueduct grandstand, ask leading questions to selected characters and come up with poll results drastically different than the Jockey Club's.  If I published the result as fact, without the context, wouldn't that be as much of the truth as the Times' is (or isn't)?

Sometimes the Times reports truth that just isn't all that true.  The Aqueduct Task Force specifically refuted the paper's blanket use of the phrase "powerful painkillers" to describe all prescription NSAIDs.  Of course, you won't read that in the Times; especially considering that they published their article on the Task Force report the morning before it was released, no doubt to have it run on the front page on Friday rather than get lost in the weekend editions.  I wrote about that, and other mischaracterizations of the report in this post.

And then there's the 24 horse a week claim itself.  If Drape was really being truthful, he'd be reporting that a study based on fatality reports compiled from state regulators from 2009 - 2011 showed that approximately 24 horses a week died during that time, rather than repeatedly portraying it as a continuing and ongoing event, which it may, or may not, be.  In addition, the Times' reporting clearly infers that these fatalities are caused almost exclusively by the use of legal and illegal drugs and medications.  That brings me back to Mr. Hancock III.  His assertion continued that "24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing and countless others are broken down and maimed for the rest of their lives because they are being drugged to enhance their performance."

That is certainly not true.....though one can surely understand why one would conclude that after reading the Times' series.  Does drug use contribute to the number of deaths?  Probably.  But we all know that horses break down because it's a rough game.  As I've surely noted before, we exploit these animals for our own entertainment and profit, and we do with them what best serves us, not what is best for their welfare.  Otherwise, and only for one thing, the Triple Crown would be run on turf in the late summer and fall.  But egads, perish the thought.  So, it's actually quite convenient for a participant in the U.S. breeding industry like Arthur Hancock III to blame others for the problem, and to call for someone else, like the federal government, to deal with it!  As we know, U.S. breeders are not breeding these horses for durability.  They are breeding them for profit; for horses with the most "fashionable" bloodlines; for those who may, before their second biological birthday, be able to run a furlong in nine seconds under tack.  You don't have to be a pedigree expert to know that the breed is far less sturdy than it was a few decades ago.  Instead of pointing fingers, perhaps Mr. Hancock should be reflecting on his own role in the matter.

And maybe that goes for all of us.  Everybody who is involved in some way nurtures the status quo by their participation.  Only a few are actively trying to do something about it, and simply proselytizing on Twitter doesn't count.  Horseplayers will take action about things they are really passionate about - especially when they feel that their wallets are threatened.  I see people boycott tracks if their takeout is too high; shun synth races because they think it's too hard to win (and they took that attitude even at the beginning, when the artificial surfaces were being billed as a cure-all to the breakdown problem); or refuse to take their wife and daughter to Saratoga because it will now be too expensive to get in.  They'll also take action if their blessed traditions are threatened in any way - just yesterday saw people threatening to boycott Churchill tracks because they don't like their points system for the Derby.

But I don't recall any organized boycotts of Aqueduct during the breakdown spate there.  Do you?  I haven't seen any movements to boycott dirt races in favor of those on turf or synth because they are believed to be safer.  The issues of horse safety and drug use are not even amongst the criteria used by HANA in their top racetrack ratings.  Their #4 track for 2013 is Tampa Bay Downs, which recently came under scathing criticism for being too lenient on cheaters.  But hey, their takeout is low!

Believe me, I'm not judging anyone here (except for those, such as the members of the Joe Drape God Squad on Twitter, who would judge me for having the nerve to question what the Times reports).  Let's be brutally frank and honest here.  If someone said to me:  Look, you can still have this sport of horse racing and all the joy (and heartbreak) and economic benefits that it brings.  But despite our best efforts, no matter what we have tried, 22.83 horses are going to continue to die every week.  What do you want to do?

I know what my answer would be.  And I suspect that I'm hardly alone.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

NYRA Budget Admissable - For Now [UPDATED]

The NYRA Reorganization Board unanimously approved the budget for 2014 that we previewed here yesterday.  Not however without a caveat following a passionate debate on the admission and parking increases.  (And I apologize, I was wrong yesterday about Belmont grandstand admission, which is currently $3.)  To appease the opponents, Chairman David Skorton suggested that NYRA conduct some kind of "market research" on the increase before the next board meeting in March, and even Bobby Flay - who, at one point, helpfully declared that "whenever I need to raise prices in my restaurants, I just don't do it" - could see that was ridiculous.

Maybe I'm missing some point somewhere here, but I just can't imagine either of the following conversations ever happening: 1) Newbie: "I don't want to go to Belmont because $5 is too expensive to get in."  (My nonbeliever friends can't believe the entry prices at the track are so low.)  Or, 2) Regular racetrack customer: "I'm not going to Belmont anymore because it now costs an extra $2 to get in."  (The parking admittedly is a wild card; currently free for general parking at Belmont, who knows what they're thinking; costs ten bucks to park at Del Mar, for example.)  I could see perhaps less people forking over the additional three bucks to get into the clubhouse, but can't imagine any material effect on attendance, at least based on the admission increases alone.

Having said that, according to Teresa's aforelinkedto Bloodhorse piece, we're talking about trying to squeeze out an estimated measly $250,000. [Clarification/correction on this:  Teresa tweets today:  "Hike in fees of all kinds (admission/simulcast) meant to offset $1.8m deficit and carve out $250K surplus."  So it is not an insignificant amount at all.]  So Still, maybe it's just not worth the bad publicity.  Already we have the habitual NYRA-basher Odato with the lede: "As the New York Racing Association planned to raise admission prices for live thoroughbred horse races, it awarded raises to some of its top officers," as if the two events literally coincided.

In any event, again, New York City is a city with zero off track betting facilities, and I'm completely perplexed as to why NYRA isn't pursuing the opportunity to operate an off track teletheater as it is permitted to by law.  If they believe they can generate $9 million in additional handle at Longshots, I'd think a couple of well-placed snazzy off-track facilities in Manhattan could be a bonanza.

[Update: The Form's David Grening, who I'm sure was quite upset that he had to miss a day at Aqueduct to cover the board meeting, writes:

  One thing that was not brought up at the meeting was NYRA’s previously stated desire to re-enter the New York City Off-Track Betting market by getting into bars and restaurants in the city. At previous board meetings, this was identified as a potentially important new revenue stream, but it was not broached in the 2014 budget.

“We’re going to try and work on things for a while to get to a plan and then when we have a plan we can go to the right folks and see if we can get something done,” Kay said. “To be able to say on Dec. 4 this is going to happen sometime in 2014 is complete conjecture.”
I'm sure Hayward had a plan, maybe they can get it from him.]

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

NYRA Seeks Financial Independence from VLT's

NYRA has a plan to get to profitability without VLT money which involves increases in track admission and parking, a hike in simulcast fees (we could perhaps see some simulcast interruptions in response to that), closing the Aqueduct training facilities during non-racing months, and reducing legal and other expenses.  I think this is a worthy goal; but surely not because the governor or Robert Megna or David Skorton want it.  Nor because I think there is any particular or compelling reason why NYRA should have to do so, as opposed to all the other New York racinos; and nor do I think that NYRA is any immediate danger of having the VLT money stripped away.

It's just good business practice, for one thing, especially considering the uncertain future with the pending arrival of full-scale casinos.  And it would put NYRA in a far better business and ethical standing down the road to argue for VLT money to continue, should it ever get to that point.  It could then assert that its business stands on its own, and that the VLT revenue, rather than being a subsidy to keep an unprofitable business afloat, is instead an investment to keep purses and breeding incentives high, which, in turn, generates revenue and jobs for the state.

Unfortunately, it has ramifications more profound that a few bucks extra in admission charges: The section on the new budget in the agenda for Wednesday's board meeting [large pdf file] refers ominously to unspecified "headcount adjustments."

The new admission fees - $5 for the grandstand and $8 for the clubhouse (a $3 increase, except for Saratoga grandstand, which goes up by $2) - still would leave NYRA below, for example, Del Mar ($6 / $10, though reduced for the regular Diamond Club me!)  Still, it immediately attracted some criticism in Twitter-land as short-sighted and in contrast to free admission at casinos.  Personally, I've always thought it a little odd that people who come to the track to bet copious amounts of money on dumb animals would quibble over a few dollars in admission or the price of a Form.  Just doesn't seem that consequential in the scheme of things.  (Though it will be more so at Belmont regarding parking since many Saratoga fans park off track.)  Except for the Saratoga grandstand, which went up a buck, I don't recall prices ever going up in all the years I've been going.  So I hardly think that it's unreasonable.

NYRA is not estimating how much revenue the admission increase will generate.

 “Additional revenue from an admission increase is uncertain at this time,” [Dir of Communications Eric] Wing said. “It would obviously be a function of attendance.” [Saratogian]
But I would think that anyone who would not go to the track specifically over a relatively small increase in  overhead would not be high handle types that would significantly hurt business.....and chances are they would maybe bet via NYRA Rewards at home.

Now, having said all that, I would prefer a different approach, and note, hardly with any surprise, that the concept of NYRA-opearted off-track teletheaters to fill the void left by NYC OTB is not mentioned in the board meeting document.  That was a main priority of the former CEO Charles Hayward; and it was his concern over navigating the necessary political processes that led to the takeout snafu that unfortunately cost him his job.  Hayward is a racing guy.  Chris Kay is not.  But Kay knows from his experience consulting for Universal Studios Parks, where the admission is $42, that entry fees to the tracks are relatively cheap.  And he knows his bottom lines.

According to the agenda, the Longshots simulcast bar on the second floor of the Big A is now slated to open in April, right around the time that racing shifts to Belmont on May 1, thank you very much. The facility does figure into NYRA's revenues projections; the forecast is that it will generate an additional $9 million in handle, broken down, quite specifically, as follows: $2.2 million during Belmont spring, $1.5 million during Saratoga, $1.3 million during Belmont fall, and $4 million during Aqueduct.  Not sure exactly what they are basing those rather precise estimates on!  I mean, people already go to Aqueduct for simulcasting and live racing.  Sure, there will be a (hopefully) really nice cool new place to hang out, drink, and bet.  Whether people will now make the trip to Aqueduct specifically to go there, or whether those who already go will bet more because of it, remains to be seen.  Maybe they're planning cheap drinks with generous pours and other incentives to get horseplayers to part with their money! (But remember, they'll be those young women that Mr. Kay mentioned to distract the horseplaying men!)

A change in the racing schedule for Aqueduct this winter - dark days will be Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Jan through March, and there will be racing only four days a week in February (Friday - Monday).  They can't be loving that at Parx, or the other tracks that race on Mondays.

On page 20 of the agenda, NYRA details coming patron area improvements at the three tracks.  It curiously claims that "a significant amount of improvements were made in 2013" at Aqueduct.  I'd like to know what those are other than the murals on the first floor, and the sealing off of the passageway to the racino on the second floor [Update: this was sealed off by Genting last year]. Nothing else is planned there other than renovations to the escalators and third floor bathrooms, along with additional security cameras for patron and employee safety.  And, of course, the long-awaited Longshots bar.  Improvements to the sound system is slated for Saratoga, where I often have to resort to the iPod to drown out the blare from the backyard TV's, but none at the other two, where you can't hear a thing in many areas.

 - Over at the TimeformUS blog, I posted about the Remsen, and the slow early pace that is considered to be "peculiar" in this country.  Mike Watchmaker wrote disapprovingly at the Form of such races that are run in the European style of [gasp - ed.] slow early, fast late.  As we know, most racing people here seem to love high early speed and the spectacle of exhausted opponents digging deep for a little extra to prevail in the late going, like heavyweights laboring in the 12th round. Perhaps it's the fact that I started out as a harness guy that it all seems counter-intuitive to me.  The Remsen was an extreme case to be sure, but I personally prefer the sight of fresher horses going faster in the stretch.

And it just might be easier on the horses and better for their well-being too.  Everybody is just so concerned about that nowadays, but not of course when they would have to sacrifice their own beloved and hallowed (and dumb?) traditions.  And surely not if they perceive that it would effect their ability to handicap effectively. 

On that topic, in this spot and at this time, I was planning to pivot to address my assertion in the prior post that the Times' reporting on 24 horse deaths a week was BS.  However, that will now have to wait.  I've always been open to disagreement and willing to correct any errors or misstatements.  But I don't answer to anyone or operate on anybody's timetable but my own -  even (especially) the New York Times - as to when I post on this blog.  I do so whenever I have a chance, which is unfortunately far less than in the past, and more unlikely when I have my kids and family in town for an extended holiday weekend.  Don't worry though, I'll surely get to it in a far shorter time frame than the 20 months it took the Times to address their misinformation on WMD's in Iraq.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few Things

A few things:

We went to the reception for the Aqueduct Murals on Saturday night.  I've been at the Big A too many times to even speculate on the number, and can't recall a more interesting, unusual, and bizarre visit.  Interesting because the art is quite fantastic.  Not gonna post photos here (except for one, below) because you can see them elsewhere and I have other things to get to in the short time before we all get gobbled up by the holiday.  The three-sided piece by Chris Stain is worth the price of admission getting there itself.  Located in what was previously the grim passageway to the racino side behind the paddock, it's an epic three-sided work that is poignant and powerful, inviting one in to become part of the grand history of the sport that it evokes, as if its better days were not so long ago.

Unusual because when's the last time you were at an art opening, complete with DJ and a wine/beer bar (two drinks for a nominal contribution of $5 to benefit the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program) on the first floor of the Big A?  Nice wine too, with a generous pour.  And there was a vodka and scotch tasting to boot!  

Bizarre because the track was also open for the late night simulcasting.  So there was an odd mixture of the hardest of hardcore horseplayers, along with the artsy crowd.  I saw some who were obviously there for the event wandering warily amongst the betting crowd to see the murals; and a few bettors taking advantage of a rare good deal on alcohol.  But mostly the groups kept comfortably to themselves, not quite sure what to make of each other.  A NYRA official told me that there was discussion of shutting down the simulcasting, but that he would have none of that!  Great decision.  It added a bit of a performance art aspect to the affair!

 - On the same night, the first racing program was conducted at the new Meadowlands grandstand, and an overflow crowd of 15,000 packed the joint!  Made for some hassles getting in from what I've read; the parking lot seemed small and people apparently had to shuttle bus over from the other side.  People seemed impressed with the Victory Sports Bar and Nightclub, which wasn't open when I was there last Friday.  As I mentioned, it was no frills, first-floor only for the simulcast, so I have an open mind for a night of live racing, especially when the rooftop lounge is open next spring.  I read one customer comment about the outdoor seating - 1,800 of them according to this guy - and how they will go to waste during the cold weather months.  If that number is true - and there did seem to be quite a bit - and the total seating capacity is 2,200, that doesn't leave many seats from which to watch the races live during the winter.

But I have an open mind, as I've said, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.  (I'll probably have to book a table at the fancy-schmanciest restaurant choice in order to get the Head Chef there on the racing nights while they're limited to Fri-Sat.)

 - It seemed that everyone on Twitter was all-a-twitter over the piece that owner/breeder Arthur Hancock III wrote last week for The Paulick Report. If you missed it, here it is.  In brief, Hancock calls for the federal government to get with the program and, exercising its power to regulate interstate commerce (as per the out-of-state simulcasting permitted by the Insterstate Horseracing Act) crack down on abusers, as they did with Michael Vick for engaging in dog fighting.  I think I got that right, yes? This appeal was in conjunction with the annual exercise of industry folks appearing before a House Committee and begging to be regulated by the federal government, as if they are unwilling, unable, or just disinclined to do something themselves about drugs, and, worse yet, as if federal regulation would be some kind of magic elixir that would make the cheaters disappear.

OK, four points on Hancock's piece.  First of all, other than the fact that they both involve animals, I don't really see an analogy between dog fighting, an illegal exercise of, by nature, deliberate cruelty and intended death to an animal beloved and treasured as a family pet by tens of millions, and cheating by a distinct minority involved in the legal sport of horse racing.  I mean, if you equivocate the two, then maybe you should be reading a PETA blog instead of this one.  Secondly, if Hancock is trying to make the point that federal regulation has brought relief to these animals beyond the single, high-profile arrest he cites, then you should Google "dog fighting" under 'News' and see how totally out of control the practice apparently is.

Third, Tom Noonan points out in his latest post that the arrests at Penn National by federal agents is really exactly what Hancock is calling for - a federal prosecution of suspected drug cheaters by virtue of the interstate commerce clause of the IHA.  So maybe he didn't have to spend the time writing it.

Finally, and worst of all, is this:
According to the New York Times, every week in the United States, 24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing and countless others are broken down and maimed for the rest of their lives because they are being drugged to enhance their performance.
Ah yes.  The already well-worn New York Times' 24-a-week stat.  The funny thing about that statistic is the way that number has become a mantra of sorts, both for the Times and for those who cite it to make a point.....while what has apparently been forgotten in the 20 months since the first of the Death and Disarray articles, is that the Times compiled breakdown information based on terms searched for in chart comments, including those like "vanned off" and "lame" that don't necessarily mean death or serious injury.  I don't know if the Times has ever been exactly clear what the 24 is based on.

But in any event, hasn't anyone ever done a basic reality check on that number?  I haven't seen one.  It's easy to do, we can do it right here.  I counted 85 race cards from last Saturday through Friday (not counting Woodbine, you don't get to play!);  I'll round that up to 90, figuring that some tracks that normally run on Thursday don't on Thanksgiving.  Let's say that the cards average nine races of eight horse fields - which I'd guess is an overestimation, but let's do that to be conservative relative to my point.  That's 72 horses times 90 cards = 6,480 horses.  If 24 of those die, that makes the rate 1 in 270 starts.  That's as opposed to the 2 in 1000 starts statistic which I think is generally accepted as a ballpark figure - 1.92 in 1000 was the 2012 rate according to the Jockey Club.  1 in 270 translates to 3.7 in 1,000, which is almost twice the Jockey Club's number.

So I'm calling bullshit on the Times and their 24-a-week stat, and I welcome anyone to prove me wrong, I'd be happy to acknowledge that if so.  And people like Arthur Hancock III, as well-intentioned as he may be, are spreading misinformation when they cite it as fact.  I know that there are those who root Drape on, think he's a crusader for cleaning up the sport.  You won't think he's so great when you're watching some government hearing on banning horse racing and people are testifying how the Times says that 24 horses a week die while racing.  Think I'm exaggerating (or being hysterical)?  Yes, I am.  But it's a valid point that misinformation in the New York Times is capable of leading to consequences profoundly worse that horses getting doped.

 - And finally, and as long as I'm crabby, here's an article about the situation in Saratoga, where, as we've reported, opponents of a casino at the harness track are well-organized and armed with what they consider to be a mandate from the clear defeat of the casino referendum in the city of Saratoga Springs.  However, Saratoga Raceway principal James Featherstonawilsonhaughsmithandwessonstein seems unimpressed.  And undaunted:
"We believe we have the best site: historically, economically, socially and in every other way in our region.....And we expect with the help of our friends and colleagues in Saratoga and in consultation with the community to make a bid that brings the casino license to our facility." [Albany Times Union]
Well, there's a big flip of the bird to the voters and the community there. As I've been saying, this thing is in the bag for the Saratoga harness track by virtue of a backroom deal between Cuomo and the NYGA, and it will take quite a tide of opposition to undo what already is done if this guy is not interested in how the community feels.  Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Partial Review for Partially Opened Meadowlands

I checked out the new Meadowlands grandstand on Friday afternoon. There was no live racing of course - that resumes on Saturday night.  It was really weird being on the other side of the racetrack like that, facing the stadium and the old grandstand, slated to be demolished after the Super Bowl.  And it will be weirder I'm sure when I get back there for some live racing.

As for the building, only the first floor simulcast area was open.  It was fine.  It actually reminded me a lot of the original, especially on nights/days when I would go for simulcasting and only the first floor would be open, and everyone would be packed in there.  Same vibe, just smaller and spiffier; with familiar looking features like the Raceworld room with the individual workspaces with TVs - not $3 well-spent on my part, as I was wedged between two idiots - an open-air teletheater, a food court, a bar, a little studio for the simulcast hosts; except all compressed compared to the original.  It's highly functional to be sure, with plenty of TVs, betting windows/machines (the betting machines are definitely not new), and seating, both indoors and outside.  There was a fancy looking restaurant not yet open, and more dining options on the upper floors which will open with live racing.  Coming in the spring is a rooftop lounge and an outdoor area with a music stage.

I certainly didn't think it was anything special, at least what I saw on that one floor.  I'd have taken more pictures, but there isn't really much more to it.  It's a track.  Think there would have to be more to it upstairs if it's really going to be something to attract people to come to the races, as Gural intends.  Having said that, I suppose the idea of a new structure at a racetrack that's actually totally devoted to racing is a bit of a novelty these days.  Sure beats that mess at Gulfstream.

I go to these simulcasting palaces ready to plunge into all the action but often end up just overwhelmed by all the different tracks going on.  So the best I can say is that I didn't lose close to my whole bankroll for the weekend.   Ended up betting more harness races than thoroughbreds.   Had one really close call/tough beat, in the 12th at the Meadows, boxed the 1-3 exacta, and it came in 1-2-3, with my horse falling short by a long head.  I swear, I bet the race with zero minutes to post, and the 1 was 5-1.  But by the time the race actually went off, the 1 had soared to 14-1, and I didn't have a win bet.  That'll teach me to bet that early.  Really have to watch the exacta pools for a hint at what the ultimate win odds will be at these tracks with so little money in the win pool.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Saratoga Residents Hoping for a Big SAVE

Voters in Saratoga County voted against the referendum and now there's an active grass roots movement in Saratoga Springs opposing the siting of a casino at the harness track.  (Which of course already has a racino which is almost a casino.)

SAVE is the rather contrived acronym (Saratogians Against Vegas-Style Expansion), and here's their website.  Here, they cite the usual concerns; most significantly to me in this particular case considering that there is already gaming and entertainment there, the worry that converting the racino into a grand "destination," complete with a hotel and even more dining and entertainment options, will damage businesses in downtown Saratoga and forever alter the nature of the 'historic' town.  

Local establishments in Iowan cities couldn't compete with casino subsidized drinks, meals and hotel rooms, taxable retail sales in Iowa cities without casinos grew more than five times faster than sales in cities with casinos, leading researchers to conclude, “the operation of a casino in a mid-size city, far from contributing to economic development, creates a measurable drain on the economy of the city.”
They also point to neighboring Massachusetts, where individual localities get to decide on their own fate (which didn't help the voters of East Boston, who rejected a casino at Suffolk Downs, since that track straddles two voting districts and the other one approved); emphasizing that voters in the city of Saratoga Springs rejected the referendum by an even higher margin (57 to 43) than did the overall county (54 to 46).

Opponents gathered at a meeting on Monday to express their concerns.  All of this must be causing consternation for the Saratoga Casino and Raceway owner James Featherstonberghaughsteinamatoberg, the head of NYGA, which ultimately agreed to support the referendum.  I've long speculated here that he helped seal the deal for a casino at the harness track in a backroom deal in exchange for the organization's tacit support.  Local opposition could surely throw a wrench into his plans, though it doesn't guarantee anything.
  But Saratoga's 27,000 residents can't stop a casino. That's because when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature crafted the law they refused to provide a local veto — common in states like Massachusetts, where two communities rejected casinos last week.

The law does say casino operators seeking a license must win "public support in the host and nearby communities," which could take the form of local laws, putting the question of support in the hands of elected officials, or through public comment. [AP]
Already, the opposition has led to the cancellation of a vote by Saratoga County leaders to endorse a casino.   But supporters of a casino will be able to state their case at a forum in Saratoga Springs on December 16.

The effort in Saratoga is the kind of groundswell of opposition that we just didn't hear about prior to the vote. I wonder if we would have seen such movements in NYC if casinos were imminent here instead of [supposedly, ha ha] seven years away. I also wonder if Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio still would have said he was in favor.  As I pointed out in this post, I think the concept of casinos is a contradiction of his main talking point of income inequality and the "tale of two cities."  But he was able to keep a low profile on the issue, and came out quietly in favor, no doubt in part to curry favor with the governor from whom he'll need support to pass the tax increases that he seeks.

About a half hour south of Saratoga, the city council of Rensallaer, where county voters narrowly approved the referendum, voted unanimously in favor of building one on the waterfront.

 - Yes, I'm old enough to remember.  I was in elementary school, and I recall being dismissed early without an explanation.  I recall the sight of the yellow school buses all lined up to take us home.  I recall being on the bus amidst the usual din of kids at the end of a school day, amplified in this case by the unexpected early end to the day.  And then I remember - quite vividly, as if....and I know we're reading this phrase a lot just happened yesterday, the bus driver turning around and shouting: "Can we please be quiet and have a little respect!  President Kennedy was just killed!"  And I remember the silence as we headed home.  It's the only memory whatsoever that I have of whatever school that was.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Queens Losing And Gaining a Street Art Canvas

This is a link to the Artists page on the Aqueduct Murals site.  There you can read about the artists who will be creating murals on the walls of the first floor, and see some of their work.  Obviously, this is quite a serious art event.

Chris Stein

Seems just completely out of left field as a marketing event by NYRA, totally out of the box.  Very excited to check it out.  (And this is the website of the curator, Joe Iurato.)

In addition to the novelty of the event, interesting that it corresponds to the developments at the 5POINTZ site in Long Island City just a couple of blocks away from the office.  If you're not familiar, 5POINTZ is a building on which the owner has allowed graffiti artists to ply their trade freely for years, with quite stunning and distinctive results.  But now, he wants to cash in and construct luxury apartment towers.  Yeah, I'm all for art and free expression, and who needs another luxury apartment tower around here; but honestly find it hard to find to argue much.  It's his building after all.  In what the artists claim was an attempt to nullify their efforts to have the building declared a landmark, he had it painted over on Monday night.  I was there for an event a few months ago and this was just a partial view, just a tiny sliver of the canvas.

I walked over yesterday and this is the sad scene.

So, Queens is losing a cool street art site, but gaining what looks like will be another one, albeit indoors.  The buildings however may very well be facing similar futures.  The fate of 5POINTZ is now quite clear.  The fate of Aqueduct is not, but we all suspect that the future is not rosy.

However, as I said yesterday, the racing there has been superb, and the 7th is another inscrutable betting race, with a field of ten (which I personally find to be a perfect field size).  A couple of interesting contenders from trainer Linda Rice, both of whom about she's thought highly enough to reacquire after losing them at the claim box.   Quick Money (6-1), who she retook from Jacobson last winter, comes off a couple of disappointing efforts on dirt after a series of mostly good grass efforts. I'm willing to excuse the race two back because it came on a muddy surface which was favoring speed.  In his last, he dueled inside of a quick pace and faded to 5th.  That effort came after just 20 days, and this six-year old seems to prefer some longer spacing than that at this point in his career, which has spanned 42 starts.  Gets 40 days before this one, with a crisp half-mile work a week ago. Also switches back to jockey Cornelio Velasquez, who has ridden him with ample success in the past. The TimeformUS Pace Projector shows him again vying for the lead, in a race labeled 'Favors Horse On/Near Early Lead; and while I don't necessarily expect/hope for that to be the case for a horse who has done best stalking, and in a race with no clear early speed type, he has back figures well fast enough to take this and would represent good value at his morning line.  [UPDATE: Quick Money is scratched.]

The other Linda Rice entry is Wee Freudian (5-1), who she just claimed back after losing him for one race to Bruce Levine.  The latter barn has been ice cold around here of late, so just the re-change of scenery may do him good coming off a disappointing try at 5-2 for Levine.  Having tried him unsuccessfully on grass before losing him temporarily, Ms. Rice now switches him back to dirt.  His efforts on the main track at the Big A have been uniformly excellent; last two on the oval came last winter, earning TFUS figures against better horses that would handily beat this field.  Can't really decide which one of these I like better; will watch the tote and check out the exacta will pays.  Non Stop (8-1) has been quite keen since being claimed by David Cannizzo.  Majestic Number (3-1) is the Jacobson claim and the one to beat.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tale of Two Tracks

OK, I'm back, will try to keep up better.  Been busy with life and work, and been writing a semi-regular feature for the latter called Today in Racing over at the TimeformUS blog.

We were also in Florida last week.  Visited my daughter in school in Miami and then we drove across the state to my mom's place near Sarasota, where we hung in mid-80's temperatures for a few days, nice!  On the way, we stopped at Gulfstream Park.  It was the first time I was there since the real Gulfstream was razed and replaced by order of Frank Stronach, and I wrote about that, as well as the late Paul Moran, in a Today in Racing post last week.  As I'm sure I've mentioned numerous times, Gulfstream held a special place in my heart; I'd say that only Saratoga ranks higher in my esteem, and that only because it's Saratoga.  Made regular trips there way way back in the day, and then, after an absence of about ten years, made annual pilgrimages up until its final year in 2004 (Cyndi Lauper was the last of the backyard concerts I was there for)

But I swear, I really did go back with an open mind.  It's been nearly a decade now, and I was in the mood for a little racing action in the middle of a non-racing trip.  The first sign of trouble was when we happened upon the paddock.  I always thought it looked kinda cool and classy on TV, but I found it contrived and tacky, and not because it's located in the middle of a shopping center, Frank's ploy to attract ordinary citizens to come and play the slots, oh, I mean, horses.  The black rubber "walking ring" didn't help.  The highlight was seeing Serling's mug on the big simulcast screen overhead!

It really didn't get better from there once we went out front.  I know people who like the place.  None of them had ever been to the original, so they don't have perfection to compare it with, as I do.  So I know they simply can't relate to my experience.  But I can't really understand how anyone could think it's a good track to go to, unless you prefer to watch all the races on TV, in which case the simulcast room seemed like a lively place.  Precisely as I'd read, there are very few places where you can really see the races.  The apron is so narrow, constricted in length, and close to the racetrack surface (the Head Chef was excited that she was so close to the starting gate) that you're practically watching a head-on shot for most of the stretch run.  I guess if you nab one of the small number of seats, it could be OK for the day, but it's still not a great perspective.

Worse yet, and maybe because it's not yet the prime winter racing season, it was just glum and depressing.  It was pretty empty outside on a perfect weather day.  The beach bar area was closed - it looks like it could be cool, as long as you're just watching races on TV.  The racing was dull; a full card of Florida-bred stakes races, which made me better appreciate NY-bred races.  (Though maybe the action picked up, as I only lasted about an hour.)  I was reminded for some reason of a mid-1970's visit to Buffalo Raceway, which was the last time I was so profoundly depressed by a racetrack visit.  And I snapped at the Head Chef when she dared to suggest that it wasn't so bad.

When I posted on Twitter from the sad scene, Pete Fornatale, writing a column these days on handicapping contests for our good friends at the Daily Racing Form, responded: Am I exaggerating to say imagine if they replaced Saratoga with Aqueduct?  To which I responded that that was an insult to Aqueduct, where at least there's an entire clubhouse devoted to racing, and an apron from which you can actually watch the races, even on the casino side.

I've been to the Big A three times already since it opened for the big fall-winter-spring meet (it's all one

big meet to me), and hardly a surprise I'm sure when I report that there is next to nothing new to report on its physical condition.  Looks like they might have improved the lighting on the first floor.  The second floor is now completely sealed off from the racino.  And, towards the back of that second floor.....where the Longshots bar/simulcast spot is supposed to be built, it's sealed off and quiet; no sign of construction.  Signs for the old haunting spots that used to be there are poignant reminders of better days, even the ones of recent years when they showed the signs of wear, tear, and neglect.

The last I heard regarding completion of Longshots is some indefinite date in 2014, but even that is starting to feel like a longshot.  Surely wouldn't be a surprise if it's never built given the uncertainty over Aqueduct's future.  I would think that the great governor of our state, and the master of the New York Racing Association, could use his office and influence to help persuade a company seeking a casino license from the state to do us this one favor; just this one little itty bitty thing for the racetrack which they pledged so sincerely to be a good neighbor to.  C'mon, guys.  Please?

Well, the racing has been consistently fabulous, anyway.  Full, competitive fields, and the turf course holding up great as we move into late November, handling three or four races a day.  Great stuff.

And the first floor is actually about to get a makeover of sorts, in the form of 'street art' murals to be painted on the walls.  Aqueduct Murals opens to the public on Saturday.  What that means for anyone attending the races between now and then, I'm not sure, and I don't intend to find out.  There's a reception from 6 until 10 that evening, and it sure would have been nice if it could have been held at a cool new bar at the back of the second floor.

 - Jeff Gural has already broken ground on an expansion at Tioga Downs, one which be even expand-ier should his track get a casino license.  Gural bristled at a potential competing bid in the immediate area: “I put a lot of time, effort and money into getting Proposition 1 passed."  Well, for one thing, I don't think he really did.  More significantly, Gural's indignation and sense of entitlement hints at the backroom quid pro quo between the NYGA and the state with respect to the former not opposing the referendum that we all suspect.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Orb Goes Bye-Bye

Yeah, I flaked on doing picks for Saturday's Breeders' Cup, sorry, whatever, I didn't really like anyone anyway.  I wrote about how happy I am that it's all over at the TimeformUS blog.

In all the many years I've been writing this blog, I don't know if I've ever been more right about a horse than I was about Otb.  Not that that's necessarily saying that much; and indeed, I was convinced, prior to and in the immediate aftermath of his Derby win, that he would win the Triple Crown, which I don't think I ever put in writing here.

Nonetheless, I had him in the Derby.  I did like him in the Preakness though didn't bet him at 3-5. Afterwards, I bought the excuse that he was trapped on the worst part of the track, and I credited Oxbow for a better performance than some others did.  But I soured on him as the Belmont approached, and cleverly used him only at the very bottom of my winning trifecta tickets.  A few weeks later, I wrote that he won't win another race this year.  Probably somewhere I wrote, or at least thought, that he'd be retired before he ever won another race.

So, now, Orb has indeed been retired.  Used to be that owners would at least offer some lame excuse, usually in the form of a minor injury, to justify a retirement which has no justification from a sporting sense. But, that is surely no longer the case.

"He is sound, looks about as good as he ever has in life, if not better," McGaughey said by phone. "They just felt like it was the right time to maybe retire a young horse to go to stud.
"The decision to retire Orb was made with mixed emotions," Janney said in the press release announcing the retirement to Claiborne. "While I believe he would have had a very successful 4-year-old campaign, and Phipps Stable and I would have loved being a part of that, Orb is a wonderful stallion prospect." [USA Today]
I have to say that I thought that Shug was different from the rest, and that he wouldn't sacrifice this horse's long-term prospects in an attempt at Triple Crown glory.  But I guess I was wrong.  Well, it's too bad - I was especially looking forward to betting against him in the Cigar Mile - but we're used to it, and what does it matter anyway?  Would take an extreme change of culture to keep these horses racing and produce the kind of long-running rivalries that are a relic from the past.  We don't really even hear the "keep the stars on the track" mantra much anymore, mostly because of its sheer futility I suppose. And what difference does it make anyway, when network coverage is virtually non-existent (we'll see what the FOX broadcasts do next year), the entire post-Triple Crown season is reduced to a prep by the BC, and the ultimate showdown takes place on a freak show of a dirt track at a time on a Saturday night when nobody is watching.

 - In the 4th at Aqueduct today,  In the Beat (5-1) looks to rebound off a poor effort at Parx for trainer Bruce Levine.  This barn struggled at Belmont, but did pop a winner at 13-1 here the other day, so perhaps some better fortune is in store.  Claimed four races back, In the Beat gets some class relief here after a futile effort on turf, a close third after a wide trip chasing better at Monmouth, and the fast-paced Parx race for
which I'm willing to give him a pass; winner Red Doctober would be a distinct favorite against these.  Gelded son of Street Sense has some good numbers at this six furlong distance on dirt, and the TimeformUS Pace Projector predicts a fast pace into which In the Beat (#1) should be in good position to close into.  Running Tap (5-1) looks to be the best of the speeds, and trainer Steve Klesaris has good numbers second time with the barn.  Be tough if he can shake loose.  Dan and Sheila (15-1) tries a distance as short as six furlongs for the first time, but has some good back figures and good liven up the exotics.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Breeders' Cup Friday

Forget about the Marathon, hopefully that race will go the way of the Juvenile Sprint (though my buddy Bob probably disagrees).  Though, that would bring the number of races down to an unlucky 13, so they'd have to get rid of the Turf Sprint to make it an even dozen.  (Though the Turf Sprint does provide a nice break to run out to the store or something.)

After the Marathon, we get two impossible head scratchers and, in my judgment, one, or two, potential singles.  So I'll try to build a ticket for the Pick Three or Four.

The two inscrutable races are the two-year old turf races.  I've always thought those to be impossible, but must say they make a bit more sense this year.  I disclosed my involvement in TimeformUS here, so I'm obviously biased.  But the speed figures on the same scale for foreign and US races, along with the detailed race comments, are shedding new light on the Euro shippers that help make these races so difficult.  I'll preview some of that info here, but I'll get yelled at if I give away the store; and besides, it's still just $1.50 per card.  And if you haven't tried it yet, send me an email and I can set you up with a cheap one-time trial plan that will get you both BC cards and unlimited access to all the other tracks on Friday and Saturday.

OK, sorry about the shameless plugging.  So let's start with the 7th, the Juvenile Turf.  The interesting thing about the horses coming over from Great Britain and Ireland is that they have raced strictly over straightaways.  They haven't gone around one turn, not to mention the two they'll go around here for the mile race.  However, such invaders have won this race all three times it's been run at Santa Anita.  Giovanni Boldini (7-2) is the leading contender of the four who have never raced here.  He earned a field high TimeformUS speed figure of 97 winning his last; but that was on Poly.  Son of War Front has won twice in two tries on that surface, and ran third in his one try on turf, with a TFUS of 89, and has a moderate TFUS pedigree rating for turf routes.  Can't find any of his races on You Tube to evaluate him.  However, he's very highly regarded by the Timeform guys in the UK, so I'm gonna use him.  Outstrip (4-1) won a Group 2 two races back, but ran third in his last.  The race commentary opines that he "might well have peaked already" and that he "lacks size and scope," so I'm going to stand against.  Wilshire Boulevard (8-1) has already raced seven times, which could be a blessing or a curse.  He's only made moderate progress of late, but seems dangerous enough to consider.  Shamshon (12-1) looks to be slower than these.

Morning line favorite Bobby's Kitten (5-2) comes off his easy, though perfect trip-aided, Pilgrim win at Saratoga, earning a fig of 95.  What can you say; trainer Chad Brown scores 100 in most of the relevant TFUS trainer ratings, as does the trainer/jockey combo of he and Castellano.  He's projected to be on the early lead by the Pace Projector, and surely goes on the ticket.  I prefer Bashart (6-1) though from a value standpoint.  Yes, he has a bad post, and the Toddster is not always a great asset come Breeders' Cup time.  However, he figures to get a nice stalking trip according to Pace Projector (which doesn't include the foreign horses (since they have no pace data), none of whom are frontrunners by trade, though you never know for sure), perhaps like the one he got when he graduated against a strong maiden field at Saratoga in August.  He also showed some moxie in his last, which was on the Poly at Keeneland.  Pinched back early down the backstretch, he was a full four wide around the turn, battled on to get the lead late before getting run down by the ground-saving Poker Player (12-1).  Think he'll run very well here if Johnny V can indeed get decent position early from the 13 post.

Longshot I keep coming back to is Ontology (30-1).  Maybe he's listed that high because he's still a maiden.  But in his only turf try, this son of Tapit, out of a minor turf stakes winning daughter King of Kings (Sadlers Wells), ran very well in an overnight stakes at Del Mar; after some early traffic trouble, he closed well to be clearly second best, with a competitive figure of 87, to Diamond Bachelor, who would be a contender here if he wasn't, for some reason, running in the Juvenile instead.  Forget the last on dirt for Ontology; series of sharp workouts replicates the pattern leading up that grass effort.  Think he'll outrun his odds, and worth a couple of bucks win and place.

Aotearoa (12-1) actually beat Diamond Bachelor in their last efforts, but the latter earned a better TFUS fig in defeat due to the pace scenario (these speed figures take pace into account), as the winner benefited from a fast pace and a nice trip.  Still, it was his first grass effort, and worth including on a B ticket.

So, for this I'll use (in order of preference)  Bashart / Giovanni Boldini / Ontology / Bobby's Kitten.    Wilshire Boulevard and Aotearoa for the B tickets.

The Dirt Mile, always one of my favorite races, looks to have a lot of speed this year.  Now, I'm thinking back to last year when there was a ridiculous speed bias, and getting a little queasy.  But I'm told by a reliable Santa Anita observer who I trust implicitly that these one mile races have produced winners of all styles this year.  (Though, as we know, that doesn't guarantee that the track won't be souped up for speed for these big race days.)  With a short run to the turn, the distance can beget a mad dash there, I am told.  In this race, you have a whole bunch of horses with early zip - Taptowne breaking from the inside, Fed Biz, Broadway Empire and the blinkered Alpha from the middle, along with Verrazano, the hilarious 3-1 morning line favorite, and Goldencents from the outside.  Fed Biz and Goldencents come off sprints in which they closed, but they are both reliably close to the pace when it comes to two turn routes.  I think most, if not of all these horses, have good incentive to be in a forward position and not too wide into the first turn, and the others figure to benefit.

So, with that in mind, I like Brujo de Ollares (8-1).  This Uruguayan sensation (though actually a Brazilian bred) was a big disappointment when first brought here by Team Valor in 2012.  But this year has been a different story.  He came off a 287-day layoff to run a tough second at seven furlongs at Parx, a neck off one tough horse in Traffic Light, and ahead of the persistent Hello Lover.  Then came a facile two-turn mile win against moderate competition at Delaware.  In his last effort, the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont, he was part of a merry chase of Graydar, who had everything his own way on the front end, riding the gold rail, and setting pedestrian fractions - a half of 47 seconds which is very moderate for a high-class one turn mile race.  Brujo de Ollares also found himself three wide for most of the sweeping Belmont turn.  That's bad enough even if the rail wasn't the only place to be that day; and he still closed grimly and distinctly against the pace grain to make it a close race.  I thought it was an exceptional effort from a horse who seems to be on the upgrade, earning a 113 TFUS fig, the best of his career.

Couple of concerns - one that he could regress off that effort.  But he's working great for this race....notice how the regimen is exactly the same as that leading up to the Kelso, three works a week apart with the last one exactly a week before the race.  You know I like stuff like that.

Also, he'll be stretching back out to two turns.  He did win that race at Delaware two back.  It was visually impressive, though it wasn't that fast.  His prior winning efforts have all been around one.  Still, I think he'll be great value here, surely wouldn't be surprised if he's double digit odds, and that seems worthwhile for a horse coming off an effort I found so impressive.

Hymn Book (15-1) closed to finish only a neck behind the top pick in the Kelso.  I had him, and he never looked like a winner.  I thought he was spinning his wheels approaching the stretch at a point at which he should have been progressing, and then he made up ground late.  Think the race looks better on paper than it did visually.  Also, Hymn Book has never won, in ten tries, on a fast dirt track (he's finished second five times).  So, I think he'll be a bit short again, but he's surely worth using underneath.  Pants on Fire (6-1)  has come on in his last two races, beating Hymn Book soundly at Monmouth before tracking a fast pace and sticking around to win the Ack Ack around one turn at Churchill...earning career high TFUS figs of 112 and 113 in the process.  He should also benefit from a fast pace and I expect him to run well.  Goldencents (4-1) won the Santa Anita Derby over this track with a 118 fig, and he's run very fast in his last two races, albeit in sprints (and one on Poly).  He's certainly talented enough to win if he can deal tactically; perhaps the experience coming off the pace in sprints will help.

If Verrazano wins, I'm done for the rest of the weekend.  I'm serious.  He will be galloping straight to stud at Coolmore Ashford in Kentucky after the race, and the Toddster assures us he can stay the 1,867 mile distance.

I'm singling Brujo de Ollares here.

In the Juvenile Fillies Turf.......oh man.  Have to make some tough decisions here in an impossibly wide open 14 horse field.  I'm against My Conquestadory (9-2), at least from a win bet perspective from the treacherous 14 post.  She's good, no doubt.  But I don't think she's quite as good as track announcer Kurt Becker made it seem during the stretch run of the Alcibiades.  She did beat males in a Grade 2 at Woodbine in her career debut, on the turf.  But the race came up kinda slow - a 75 fig and the TFUS class rating was a tepid 67.  (Though third place finisher Matador did come back to win a restricted stakes on a yielding course.)  In the Alcibiades....yes she looked hopelessly blocked along the rail heading around the turn.  But, after Becker pointed out that situation, she extracted herself in the two path rather easily, and actually had a relatively smooth journey from there.  So, was she good?  You bet.  "INCREDIBLE," as Becker exclaimed?  Don't know about that.  But she'll surely get bet if people have listened to that call!  (And the race was on Poly too.)  I dunno, thinking out loud here, I'm tempted to leave her off the Pick Three or Four ticket too.  Just for fun.  Gotta make some tough decisions as I said.

For one thing, all three Euro invaders look tough and I'm gonna use all of them, even though the Timeform chaps express some doubts about the ability of Vorda (4-1) to stretch out from six furlongs to this mile route.  I wrote about her in more detail (verbal and visual) in this post on the TFUS blog.  Still, she's a granddaughter of the great miler Lure, an all-time favorite of mine who was infertile at stud and doesn't have many stallion sons around.  She has the top figure in the race (95), and I'm going to include her.  Al Thakhira (6-1) and Chriselliam (6-1) both come in off sharp efforts and are highly regarded by those in the know; the latter seems prone to throw in bad ones, but is proven at the one mile distance (though, again, down a straightaway).

Kitten Kaboodle (12-1) had an almost perfect rail trip when she destroyed the field in the Jessamine.  She was in a bit of a tight spot rounding the turn, but Alan Garcia backed off very confidently before rolling up the inside to win by six against a field of uncertain quality.  Got an OK figure of 82, and obviously is eligible to improve for trainer Chad Brown.  Johnny V hops aboard, and that combo as a trainer/jockey rating of 100 too.  I'm not getting beat by a Ramsey horse here, using her.  (But not Granny Mc's Kitten, who seems too slow.)

Street Sailing (15-1) looks a little scary coming off a win at this distance in her turf debut, at Keeneland,  and for the same connections as Brujo de Ollares.  At this point, I hope those connections are celebrating.  She earned a competitive TFUS figure of 86.  But she did have a perfect trip in an allowance race that came up with a tepid class rating, so I'm going to hold my breath and not use her.

Clenor (8-1) is surely moving in the right direction with three straight wins since shipping from Ireland over the summer, improving her TFUS figs each time.  She still has some improving to do from the 81 she got in her last though, an overnight stakes over the course at Santa Anita.  She unleashed an explosive move four wide around the turn and held off a game Nasso (20-1), who has the rail, and is forecast by Pace Projector to be on the lead.  Ready to Act (8-1) is another Chad Brown horse; she dumped her rider as the 8-5 favorite while leading in the stretch of a stakes at Woodbine after winning her debut.  Help!

I'm at least set on not using Testa Rossi (8-1); her win in the Miss Grillo came up slower, and there doesn't seem to be much speed to set up the kind of deep close she executed in that race.  But she wouldn't be a shock; nor would Sky Painter (15-1), who she beat by a nose.

Well, I don't think I can go ALL in a 14 horse race, so I'm gonna go with this, in alphabetical order, as I don't really have an opinion on a winner:

Al Thakhira / Clenor / Chriselliam / Kitten Kaboodle /  Ready to Act / Vorda   As for My Conquestadory?  Hmmm, only reluctantly and defensively, if at all.

So, there's a potential Pick Three ticket there.  Of course, through the magic of mathematics, I could add on a single from the six-horse Distaff and bet the Pick Four for the same price.  I'd have to really like her though, because if this Pick Three came through with that horse in the middle, I'd think I'd be pretty happy.  And pretty unhappy to see it go down the drain, and for what kind of extra return if I went with Royal Delta (8-5), who I expect to be the post-time favorite?

I do like her to avenge her defeat to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame.  Just don't think it was her day. She hit the starting gate on the way out, and yielded the live inside path, while Princess of Sylmar glided over to that spot for her run down the backstretch.  Surely, it was a disappointment for her to succumb to the winner as easily as she did; but Mike Smith did not really pursue the issue once the outcome was clear.  Had been thinking that she wasn't really totally wound up for that race, and read something very interesting in the recent HANA newsletter.  Seth Morrow of Equidaily, in response to the question of whether he thinks Royal Delta will rebound, says that he read where trainer Bill Mott said, prior to the Beldame:   "We gave her a couple of pretty easy weeks up there [Saratoga] after she ran - hope we weren’t too easy on her."

You never know where you can find information....or too much information, depending on how it turns out.  But taking a look at the workouts prior to each race:

Difference is quite apparent.  Mott surely has not taken it too easy on her this time.  Now she returns to the track where she won this race last year, and earned a TFUS figure of 123, second best of her career.  If she does repeat however, I don't think it will be in the same wire to wire fashion.  Here's what the Pace Projector looks like.

It shows the West Coast speedball Beholder (#5, 5-2) in the lead with Royal Delta (#4) tracking.  The Pace Projector is based on the adjusted fractions that the horses have run in the past, and obviously doesn't anticipate any changes in strategy that one might expect to see.  I think though that Mike Smith has no choice but to yield to Beholder.  Richard Mandella's three-year old daughter of Henny Hughes is five-for-six, with a second, on the Santa Anita main track, and comes off a solid prep win in the Zenyatta, with a TFUS fig of 114, galloping around the track at a steady clip.  She's gonna be out there setting her own pace again I believe, and will surely take some beating.  I'm figuring that we'll see the champion in Royal Delta shine through this time; she'll get first jump on the leader and I think she'll prevail over her younger rival, who was beaten late by Princess of Sylmar in her own prior try as long as this mile and an eighth distance.

Then there's the matter of Princess of Sylmar (9-5).  What can we say; she's been spectacular, still working well, and surely wouldn't be a surprise.  Just betting that this is a lot to ask for a filly who had been geared up for one final race before the change of heart, and that Royal Delta will have enough to hold her off this time.  It will take quite an effort and the heart of a champion to run down the speedy Beholder and prevail against a late run by Princess of Sylmar.  I think she'll get it done.  Whether I'll want to risk a possible wagering score on her doing so, I'm not sure.  I'm thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

End Game

Well, only a week left until Election Day, and despite the raft of negative publicity and editorials, the outcome of the casino referendum seems clear. At least, according to the state-wide polls.....and at least when presented with the advocacy language that will appear on the ballot.  Which is what they're gonna see.  Now a NY Times - Siena College poll of NYC voters - home to about 40 percent of the state’s registered voters - paints a similar story.  

The poll quoted the Nov. 5 ballot language, which lists only positive arguments for allowing casinos, such as promoting job growth and increasing education funding. After hearing that language, six in 10 likely voters said they would vote yes.

“That is a strong margin of victory for the gambling amendment,” said Steven A. Greenberg, a Siena College pollster. “If support is 60 percent in New York City, I am hard pressed to see how it could fail statewide.” [NY Times]
That's actually more support than the rest of the state - the last state-wide Siena poll had 55 percent in favor and 42 percent against.  Of course, the same city voters polled against casinos located in the city.  But they don't have to be concerned with that for the foreseeable future; seven years, or so we are told.  So, they don't really have to think about any actual casinos in town, so, hey, sure, job growth, education, why the hell not?  It's just another insidious aspect to this whole sordid process that a population that is detached from the debate, and from the possible negative consequences (which are not mentioned on the ballot) of local casinos, would have such an outsized effect on the fate of the measure.

Well, this sucks.  I imagine we'll see more in the way of newspaper editorials against the measure as the vote approaches.  But the main wave of negative news over the language and the lawsuit seems to have passed. In truth, this matter was over (if it indeed is) as soon as Eric Snyder's suit was thrown out.  And considering the statute of limitations which ultimately made the suit moot, the jig really was up when the language was altered behind closed doors, no doubt at behest of the governor's mansion. This race was fixed.  No doubt about that.  I'll review the whole miserable tale at some point, but we really need to get to some Breeders' Cup races. So, I'm gonna work on that.

Just a couple more points first.  About Cuomo.  For one thing, we still haven't heard a peep out of him in support of the casinos.  So I'm pretty sure I was correct in my original suspicion that he planted that story with Dicker, about some "secret" poll showing the measure in trouble, in order to get pro-gambling groups to spend money on advertising.  The latest is a mailer from NY Jobs Now (which drew criticism for not disclosing the money behind it)  If this thing was really in trouble, you can bet he'd be out there.

One thing he did talk about recently was Aqueduct.  When prompted on the topic by the NY Daily News (long an ignorant editorial voice to shutter the racetrack), Cuomo said:  “It’s been a waste.”  So says the man who took control of the tracks, recited lofty words about how concerned he is about the animals and about the importance of the industry to the state.  As we well know, he has never once deigned to set foot inside any of the tracks.  And now, he tells all the hard-working horsemen and track employees that their efforts, their literal blood, sweat, and tears providing livelihoods and generating ample revenue for the state was "a waste."  I'm sure that's not (exactly) what he meant.  But one might expect that he would at least put a few seconds of thought into what he says.  It's enough to make me want to sign off with just two short words directed towards His Highness.  The same two he tells this industry on a regular basis.
 “You could do anything at Aqueduct. I mean, you’re right at the airport. It’s a great piece of property.  It’s one of the largest pieces of property, probably, in the city of New York."
I'm sure our governor knows exactly what is right for this great, large piece of property, which opens for racing, to continue what is no doubt the countdown to its demise, on Friday.  Without the long-promised new simulcast bar, now, I'm told, put off to an indefinite date in 2014.  Thanks for your help with that, Mr. Cuomo.