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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wireless Network Blocked For Many at Del Mar

Sorry for the posting gap.  But we're on vacation, and with the family in tow - each of our two adult "kids" - out in Southern California.  We are staying in Carlsbad, about 15 miles or so north of Del Mar, where there's a racetrack, in case you didn't know.  After a cloudy day on Saturday, when we arrived, the weather has steadily improved, and it was absolutely perfect on Monday for our hike down the mountain at Torrey Pines to the pristine beach there.

I was at the races on Sunday, but had some business to attend to, so only got a little gambling in, between that distraction and a technical problem which I'll get into below.  We are sending the kids home on Wednesday night and hanging around for a few more days, so I definitely hope to get a day or two of some really serious horseplaying in!

Anyway, thanks to Bill Spencer, the Key Account Director at TVG, for his kind hospitality at Del Mar on Sunday; as well as to Luciana from their marketing department.  Got to do some demos of the TimeformUS product....though no help to the technology available there.  Was all excited to bring my brand new iPad there....but it didn't really work out so well.  For one thing, it is apparently the case that all Apple devices are blocked from getting on to the wireless network at Del Mar.  There is a network called DMRBETS that is available with a strong signal.  But once I connected to it, got a page saying that the Apple website that I am connecting from is blocked.  Huh?  Asked some people at the Clubhouse Terrace restaurant where we were, and they knew about the issue but didn't have any helpful information.  Eventually, I went on a quest.  Found a customer service booth that sent me to another one who sent me to an information window at the tote machines on the first floor clubhouse.

There, I found a woman who knew all about it; she told me that this is a technical issue that is being "worked on."  Though the people who are supposed to be working on it had the day off and were not there to impart any further wisdom or information.  Hmmm.

However, none of this really would have mattered if I had selected AT&T or Verizon as my cellular carrier instead of Sprint.   The latter was performing quite poorly, while the other two were fine.  Yeah, I guess one could criticize me for making the least obvious choice of the three.  But I've been using Sprint as my cellphone provide for many years without any problems, so I figured it was fine.  And perhaps it is in most sections of the country.  But not at Del Mar.  It was quite fortunate that the people to whom I demo'd had tablets with Verizon or AT&T.  Otherwise, that could have been quite embarrassing.

It also shows the hazard of being dependent on available technology at a racetrack.  And perhaps why the biggest complaint/request we've been getting about the TimeformUS product is to make the printable version better.  Currently, one can print out individual races, but we don't yet have the capability in place to print out an entire card, or portion of one, with a single click.  Whatsmore, our format of stacking the race fractions underneath the running positions means a lot more paper required than the standard DRF or BRIS formats.  Of course, the idea of our pp's is to eventually replace paper and pen....and the day will no doubt soon come when one can fold up a tablet and roll it up in one's back pocket like the Form.  But that day is not yet here.  And for that, and for other reasons I'm sure, it's clear that much of the horseplaying world is not quite ready for an on-track paperless handicapping experience.  I've been coming to the track with tablet only for a few months now, and feel like an alien doing so, especially at Aqueduct!

With respect to Del Mar and their supposed "technical issue" with the wireless network....I know that we, as consumers, now demand wireless in most venues and situations.  But I also understand that it presents somewhat of a conflict to racetracks which are struggling to keep handle on track, or on their ADW or ADW partners.  If I'm at Saratoga, but using their wireless network to place wagers via TVG, then I'm draining handle from NYRA since it retains a far larger portion of bets placed either on track or through NYRA Rewards.  It's like if people were sitting at Starbucks using their wireless network to order coffee from Common Grounds.  So I can certainly understand the motivation for tracks to endeavor to limit access to competing sites even while offering wireless.  Del Mar, if one is skeptical that this is really a technical issue, is taking that several steps further by blocking anyone and everyone with an iPad or iPhone.

Of course, there's only so much tracks can do given the availability of cellular access (especially with networks that actually work).  And besides, in our land of free enterprise, it's surely fair to argue that the tracks simply need to compete like everyone else; optimize the betting experience for their customers both on track and online, offer competitive rebates, and market them effectively so that bettors will want to use them rather than be forced to do so.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Saratoga Friday

Good day yesterday, so let's press our luck in the 8th race, the Curlin, for three-year olds who have not won a stakes this year.  Bad Hombre (6-1) stretches out to two turns on the dirt for trainer John Kimmel.  (And again, and strictly by coincidence, this is one of the free races of the day on TimeformUS.)  This son of Sky Mesa has really blossomed since returning from Florida and switching back to dirt; he's shown a steady progression of adding distance and improving on his speed figures.

He made his win in his last race look easy, stalking a quick pace (23.05 second quarter) and edging away from So Scott (admittedly not a notable achievement given that horse's propensity for finishing second).  He's out of a Deputy Minister mare who is a half-sister to the ill-fated juvenile champion Favorite Trick, who subsequently won the Jim Dandy over this track.  (Favorite Trick died in a barn fire in New Mexico, and perhaps there should be a rule against Grade 1 winners being in a barn in New Mexico).  So I think he'll love the stretch to nine furlongs.  Not his first time going two turns though; he closed quite well against the pace grain in that last turf race at Gulfstream.  Bad Hombre shows a snappy half mile work on July 20; a pretty typical work pattern prior to a race during his recent run of improvement.  Also interesting that Kimmel goes to Johnny V, whom he's only used six times in the last year.  Think this one represents solid value at his morning line.

Edge of Reality (4-1) ships in for the always dangerous Anthony Dutrow, also shows a nice pattern of improvement, and the Pace Projector shows him on the early lead.  Transparent (5-2) is the likely favorite coming off a ten-length win at the Big A, but that came around one turn against just three other horses, all of questionable quality (at best).

 - Seems to me that the attendance at Saratoga is kinda weak; just 10,000+ on Wednesday and a bit under 13,000 on Thursday.  And weather is no excuse, even if it's a bit chilly there.  It's still early.  But I wonder when people will start to get concerned.

Besides taking the Quick Call with Central Banker ($10.80), trainer Albert Stall Jr ran a close second in the finale with Channel Marker (albeit disappointing the chalk players).  Think we can make some more money with this barn as the meet goes along.

Well, got an email from the NYRA Press Office regarding the smashing maiden win by Our Amazing Rose ($2.90 in her debut as the fastest horse in the world); so maybe it's not as unusual as I thought the other day.  The Toddster swept the two baby races; one each for his high-powered owners Mike Repole and Tabor/Magnier/Smith, the owners of Corfu ($3).  That parlay wouldn't have gotten you much.  Corfu is by Malibu Moon out of a Forest Wildcat half-sister to Peace Rules.  Our Amazing Rose is by Yes It's True out of a Silver Deputy mare who's a half to the graded stakes winner Minister's Melody (the dam of Bob and John); and this is the direct female family of the great multiple Grade 1 winner Exceller.  (Too Bald, the dam of Exceller, is the third dam of Our Amazing Rose.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Saratoga Thursday

In the 8th, the Smirnoff Sorbet Quick Call at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf for three-year olds, Central Banker (8-1) returns off a 250-day layoff and returns to a course and distance over which he won last year.  Son of Speightstown is the first starter of the meet for trainer Albert Stall, Jr., who had a successful meet here last year (seven winners from 24 starters and a bunch of close calls at generous odds).  Barn has been deadly lately with long layoff horses such as this.  As alluded to above, Central Banker graduated on this course last summer (defeating eventual BC Juvie Sprint winner [on dirt] Hightail, and another eventual stakes winner [on dirt] in Mico Margarita), and proceeded straight to stakes company, at Kentucky Downs.  There he earned a good figure on the TimeformUS scale (and this is one of the two free races of the day today), while holding second at seven furlongs.  Won his next on dirt before his connections got distracted by visions of grandeur and sent him to the two-turn Delta Downs Jackpot.

Now he's back in his wheelhouse off a steady series of works going back to May, and repeats the winning training pattern from the race here last year with a half mile breeze a week before the race.  Hoping he'll get some pace up front for his mid-pack closing style  Seems great value at his morning line.  Stage Street (4-1) has won two in a row in front-running fashion for Asmussen (8-3-2-0 on the meet) since returning from a 250-day layoff of his own, and won in his grass debut last time out.  May face some pace pressure here though from a couple of these making their grass debut - No Distinction and Salutos Amigos - as well as the Euro shipper The Brothers War (6-1).  The latter has a big Timeform number two races back, at six furlongs, and weakened late at seven at Ascot in his last. The long comment in that race reads "weakened final 1f; best 5f/6f" so a similar effort could put him close at this distance.  Will save with him on top.

In the 9th, Holiday's Jewel (7-2) makes her third start of the year after two troubled journeys at Belmont.  Daughter of Harlan's Holiday had traffic problems two back and spent much of the backstretch run bearing out in her last.  That's not good....but she still ran a competitive 4th behind Lady of Gold, who ran a good third in a stakes here on Saturday, and the graded-stakes placed Sustained.  Here she's reunited with Castellano, who has done pretty well with the Carlos Martin barn, and returns to a course over which she ran quite well twice last year, including her graduation with a solid figure on the TimeformUS figures.  Don't see much in the way of speed in here, so Holiday's Jewel should be well-positioned for a less eventful trip and to finish strongly as she did in those efforts over this track last summer.  Beverage Queen (another one named after Bloomberg's bid to ban super-size drinks?) is the morning line favorite off a closing 6th in a Grade 3 at Churchill, but is a dead plodder who will need a lively pace that I don't believe she's going to get here.

 - On Wednesday, Kitten's Dumplings ($5) (who won the G3 Regret referred to immediately above) took the G2 Lake George for trainer Michael Maker and owner (guess who); second winner of the meet for the trainer from 14 starters.  This was the third winner of the day to have last raced at Churchill Downs, a good angle at the Spa in recent years.  By my unofficial count, she was the 10th such winner at the meet overall (including the two that deadheated in the Schuylerville on opening day).

Damn it, meant to mention trainer George Weaver after he scored with the longshot Joe Can Gallop on Monday, as streaky as we know this barn to be.  And sure enough, he scored again in the 4th with Samiam ($10.80), one of those winners coming from Churchill.  Three-year old filly graduated in her second start.  She's by Dynaformer out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare, and she's inbred 4x5 to Nashua; don't see that sire, born even before I, that close up in horses that way anymore.  That's two winners from the first three starters for Weaver, and we'll surely be keeping a closer watch for him.

In the 10th, Where's Danny ($11) was the first winner of the meet for trainer Eddie Kenneally, another guy who had a successful Saratoga meet last summer.  Tough one to come up with at that price, first time dirt in the off-the-grass affair.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Big Saratoga Notes

A successful opening four days at Saratoga; if not in the attendance department on a weekend that started in unbearable heat, surely in terms of full fields of competitive racing.  Something for everyone; chalk, plenty of winners in that 4- or 5-1 sweet spot, a host of them at double-digit odds, and a couple of impossible longshots.  Best of all, no races off the turf. The courses were firm all weekend despite a big storm on Friday night; can't beat that.  And only two maiden claiming race.  But you maiden claiming fans, do not fear.  They'll surely make up for that as the too-long meet moves along; with some 16K state-bred affairs as well.

Only 9,036 in attendance on a dry Monday; barring some unpleasant weather event, that will probably be the smallest crowd until the Monday after the Travers (when I'll be there).  It's a great thing to be there for a solid day of racing under such pleasant circumstances.

Not a pleasant day for Pletcher though, who took an 0-for-4 collar.  Sure, he was five-for-ten the first three days, and swept the three stakes races on Saturday.  But it's more fun talking about his losers.  Won't be his last tough day as many horses as he starts up there.  But days like Monday won't stop him from waltzing to another training title.  He overwhelms the competition just on volume.  At 14-5-1-3, he leads Steve Asmussen (three wins from just seven starters).

In the first, Big Sugar Soda ($12) routed seven other two-year old maiden colts, including the Toddster's Pecorino, the runner up.  This prompted a highly unusual arrival from the NYRA Communications Dept in my inbox. Big Sugar Soda Maiden Victory Quotes.  NYRA is quite active sending post-race wrap-ups and quotes for stakes races; but I don't ever recall receiving one about a routine 2 yo maiden race, even a routine 2yo maiden race at Saratoga.  Figured I'd missed something, and he was a son of Zenyatta or something otherwise noteworthy from a breeding and/or auction sales price standpoint.  (In fact, he's a son of Ready's Image who sold for $45,000 as a yearling.)

Then I saw the punchline at the bottom:

Note: Big Sugar Soda’s name was inspired by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to restrict the sale of sugar-sweetened sodas larger than 16 ounces.
Well, that's cute.  Doesn't seem to rise to the level of an email from the communications department though....unless someone there has an agenda, or is on the take from PepsiCo.  Personally, I was in favor of the Mayor's proposal, but as much because of the nature of the campaign against the measure as the measure itself (which I think was really pretty harmless in the scheme of things).  It was a brilliant job by big corporations in framing a bottom-line issue as one of 'freedom' and 'choice;' the inalienable right to consume mass quantities of soda in public places.  Seriously.  Maybe we'll see some other horse names inspired by defeated Bloomberg initiatives; like, maybe, Bigcloudofpolllution, or Big Football Stadium.  Or how about Big Assault Weapons.

Oh sorry, I digress.  Pletcher ran third in the ensuing second race, for two-year old fillies (on grass).  Ready to Act ($17.60) won despite being rather dull on the board in her debut, for trainer Chad Brown.  One doesn't see many debut winners from that barn that pay more than 7-2.  She's by More Than Ready out of a full sister to the mile and a quarter G1 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Mast Track (Mizzen Mast).  In the 5th, the Toddster had the favorite in Candy Kitty, but she ran third, on the turf to Sea Queen ($10.80), a half-sister to the mile and a quarter G1 American Oaks winner, at Hollywood Park, Nereid.

The low point of the day for the Pletcher barn was in the 8th, when favored Peace Preserver inexplicably ran dead last in a dreadful performance (kind of like Unlimited Budget in the CCA Oaks on Saturday).  This race produced the second biggest bombshell of the meeting thus far, as Angel's South ($71.50) went wire-to-wire for trainer Andrew Mitchell.  Now, I'd heard about this guy's exploits at Monmouth, particularly early in the meet there.  Has a really interesting background, and most recently served as a carpenter at a farm in Florida owned by trainer Guiseppe Iadisernia.  Now Mitchell has a string of that barn's stable at Monmouth.   He first appeared at a NYRA track at Belmont last month, winning with Banzai Charge ($13.20)

So, I've been keeping an eye out for him, and actually bet on his Shutter Shock in the 4th, who was making a nice move up the inside, but lacked room after searching for a seam somewhere in the wall of seven rivals directly up ahead.  Definitely tab for next time.  I kinda forgot about Angel's South on a busy day.....but it was hard to get too enthused about her in this grass contest after she won, against just three other rivals, in the mud last time out.  Definitely a barn to keep an eye on (though not on Saturdays; the barn doesn't run horses on that day due to Iadisernia's religious beliefs).  Angel's South is by Tale of the Cat, and descends from the distaff family of the BC Juvenile Fillies winner Epitome (the dam of the latter is the third dam of Angel's South).

The biggest bomb of the weekend was Galiana, who won the finale on Sunday and paid $141.50.  Always interesting to look at a horse like that after the fact and see if you could have made any case for it at all.  In this case, I did a double take to see if I was looking at the right horse.  Galiana, a three-year old daughter of Stonesider, won her debut on the dirt by seven lengths two races back, and was returning to that surface after an even try on the grass.  Now sure, all of us really smart horseplayers knew that the win came in a $7500 maiden claiming race at Delaware, and that it was slow no matter which speed figure scale one uses.  But somewhere at Saratoga, you just know that some guy somewhere was yelling: "HA HA, I TOLD you, this horse won easy on the dirt and he was 70-1?!? Easy game!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chris Kay and the 'Men Will Follow' Strategy

It's gonna be hot at Saratoga today, but NYRA CEO Christopher Kay says the opening day show must go on.  Most probably.

 “It’s warm, but we’ve had warm days here in the past. We’re prepared for it. Our intention is to have a full day of racing.” [Albany Times Union]
Hmm, spoken like a guy who's a veteran of the heat wave wars up there in the second greatest city in New York State.  Actually, I imagine he's never been there before.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily DQ him to be the CEO of NYRA; and besides, and no disrespect intended for Mr. Kay, for $300,000 a year in base salary, you had to figure that the ultimate selection could very well be compromised in some way.  We're starting to see a groundswell of "give him a chance" from the upstate press and citizenry alike.  As I've said before, I think he's probably going to be fine.  He's smart, and he seems like a really interesting guy with a resume that's fascinating in its variety. Not the first time he's in this situation.

However, reading this interview in the Daily Racing Form really hammers home the fact that Kay has a lot to learn about the sport, the industry, and the political history of racing in the state.  (A great job with the questions by David Grening.)   It comes off in large part as articulate hemming and hawing to me.  I'm hoping he simply misunderstood or mis-heard the question when he answered a query about NYRA operating local OTB's by launching into a discussion of the casino bill and how "it is right up there in terms of potential new revenue streams that I want to look at."  Huh?

I mean, if I were CEO of NYRA, I'd be focusing on opening OTB teletheaters in and around the city, and re-starting the effort to upgrade NYRA Rewards.  Those are your revenue streams.  He did mention the latter, very briefly.  But, among other things, he also talked about this:
 “We’d like to bring more people to racing and that includes people in the 18 to 34 demographic, and it includes more women – and young women.” [Saratoga Wire]
I'm supportive of trying to attract younger people to the game. But I think that it is industry efforts such as America's Best Racing that need to try and interest people in the 18 to 34 demographic in betting on the horses. It's up to entities like NYRA to do so as well, but more in the sense of providing the most convenient and modern ways for them to do so; which, unless you're at Saratoga or Del Mar, generally doesn't mean going to the track. So I think the two initiatives I mentioned above should be absolutely paramount.

But here we go again with this thing about attracting young women to the races.  Funny, that has come up a lot for me in recent days. While doing some research for this post the other day, I was reading back at this one from the archives about Karl O'Farrell and his Capital Play group which made a play for the NYRA franchise back in 2007.  Bringing in women was a central part of his strategy.
And of course, there's their master plan to attract single young women, "knowing that young men will follow." Yes, that's actually written into their promotional materials.
 Also, I saw this in that story by Odato the other day:
 Del Mar in California is robust, largely because of flair; its owner has turned the races into a "happening" akin to a singles bar, attracting many young, upscale people during the roughly 109-day schedule [still not corrected].
Well, I've been to Del Mar several times (and will be there again very very soon!), and I didn't know that it was crowded because it's like a singles bar. Of course, I'm far too busy playing the races to even notice all the stunningly gorgeous, athletic, and voluptuous women with their long, shimmering blonde hair glowing against their perfectly bronzed, smooth skin and sleek tight black dresses highlighting their perfect curves, with their high heels accentuating their muscular, yet distinctly and delicately feminine legs.  Nope, don't see them at all.  (And besides, who needs that when I have the Head Chef there [or not too far away shopping on Cedros Avenue].)  I always thought Del Mar was popular because it's a beautiful track with a lot of cool places to hang out in perfect weather just a few hops away from one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.

Most recently, I saw people reacting with anger on Twitter to the Meadowlands' Hot to Trot beauty contest.  Oh man. We know that Gural needs to attract on-track business there, but now he's stooping to shameless depths.  Of course, it's surely not the first example of such outright sexism. There are the scantily-clad dancers in the Calder commercials; Frank Stronach's various beauty contests at Gulfstream, from his Energy Drink Model Contest, to Ms. Racing Queen.  And then there was that "Show Us Your Tix" fiasco a couple of years ago on TVG.

But as crude and tasteless as these more extreme examples are, I don't really see much substantive difference at all, when it comes to treating women as sexual objects, between that and when someone like Chris Kay talks about bringing "young" - really meaning "attractive and at least 21 years old" - women to the track.  What is his thinking here?  Do you think he wants to attract young women because he thinks they're likely to pump a lot of money through the Pick Four pools?  Or that he thinks that eager men will come following?  Personally, I'm highly skeptical of that whole line of thinking, especially when we're talking about dilapidated facilities like Aqueduct and - though to a lesser extent - Belmont.  It was rightly ridiculed when Karl O'Farrell was talking about it.  Chris Kay is getting a pass from most quarters during his honeymoon period.  Which will last for approximately the next 40 racing days.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Del Mar Opening Day

Opening day at Del Mar; one track for which one never has to check the weather!  It's Poly/Firm all the time!  In the 4th, Cyclometer (7-2) returns to grass and stretches out after mixing it up with the speedy Comma to the Top in the G1 Triple Bend.  Lightly-raced five-year old son of Cyclotron has run mostly short on dirt and synth; but has two good front-running turf route efforts last year.  He won at a mile, and then earned a tied-for-field high 109 figure, on the TimeformUS scale, while tiring to 4th after hot fractions at this mile and a sixteenth distance. That was a tough field; all three top finishers have placed in G2 turf stakes this year. Expect him to have things more his way here, as Pace Projector shows him with an easy early advantage.

Trainer Bruce Headley scores well in the synth-to-turf category, and interesting to see a bullet three furlong blowout, in 34 3/5, just two days before the race.  Don't see workouts so close before the race much anymore.  That's real old school; could like the horse just because of that!  Whether it was too much too close to the race remains to be seen, but it certainly indicates that he's sharp for a race in which early speed figures to serve him quite well.  Dreamcatcher (3-1) seems the most consistent of the closers and should surely be on the scene late.

In the 6th, the first division of the restricted Oceanside stakes for three-year olds, I think you gotta take a look at Tebows Big Play, despite the name and his 20-1 morning line odds.  Son of Ministers Wild Cat graduated, on grass, two races back.  He then jumped straight to stakes-bred stakes company, where he ran third, 2 1/4 lengths behind runner-up Gervinho (4-1).  However, Tebows Big Play earned a speed figure equal to that one.

Mentioned in the post the other day that you'll sometimes see that with the Timeform US speed figures (sorry, the SEO guy makes me do it, both with and without the space) if one of the horses was pace disadvantaged.  While Gervinho sat a perfect trip right behind two leaders setting a lethargic pace, Tebows Big Play was further behind after being briefly checked out of an uncomfortable spot between horses on the turn. Additionally, he conceded ground to his rival when making a big wide move on the turn.  He flattened out in the stretch; but understandable considering they were coming home in 23.64, the fastest split of the race.  Should get a better pace set up for a late run here.

Also some turf pedigree here for this to be a decent grass horse; he's out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, and his second dam is a European stakes winner who has produced several of the same, plus My Redbyrd, a two-time stakes winner in New York.  Think he can outrun his odds here.  Undrafted (5-2) showed that he survived a futile trip to the Derby Trail with a 10-length allowance win on the grass with a big figure in his last.  That was in a four horse field; but his prior on grass was also good enough to win this, so I'll use him on top to save.  The aforementioned Gervinho was returning from a 218 day layoff, and is certainly eligible to improve here.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

NY Post "Bombshell" More Like a Pop Gun

The New York Post published an article on Sunday about the AEG scandal, with the headline Sheldon Silver on hot seat over racino bid as e-mails track money to political committee.  But don't expect to find much of anything qualifying as actual news here.  I have no interest nor stake in defending the New York Assembly Speaker.  But this seems like little more than a hatchet job, and I think that should be pointed out.

The article refers to "a bombshell series of e-mails and transcripts obtained by The Post from the state inspector general through a Freedom of Information Law request."  However, they could have saved some time and effort by simply reading the Inspector General's report on the sordid affair that was released in October, 2010.  Two of the key emails cited in the article are directly from the report; and others reveal little that is new.

 “Rumor has it Shelly and the gov don’t like us for Aqueduct. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it,” according to a July 8, 2009, e-mail from AEG lobbyist Fred Polsinelli to Sheinkopf, a longtime political operative and Silver friend.  
But the fact that Silver favored AEG's rivals, and that AEG officials were aware of that fact, is a prominent theme throughout the report.  Worse yet, the Post cites as its "smoking gun" this:
A month before AEG was chosen the winner, Silver asked [AEG consultant Hank] Sheinkopf for “campaign dough,” according to a Dec. 14, 2009, e-mail from Sheinkopf to Roman.
Not only does that appear in the IG report, it does so in a completely different context; in fact, in the sense of more or less exonerating Silver from any wrongdoing in that aspect of the investigation:
Although Sheinkopf opined that Silver secretly favored SL Green, the Inspector General found no evidence that Sheinkopf gained any information or leverage due to his purported connections with Silver. In fact, in response to a query from AEG members as to whether he had spoken with the Speaker recently, Sheinkopf replied on December 14, 2009, “No. He did however ask me for campaign dough today.”
Well, a politician asking for campaign dough is no more uncommon than a politician asking to get laid.  It didn't raise any red flags in the IG report, and shouldn't do so here, except for a newspaper with an agenda to get Sheldon Silver.  There is one revelation about some AEG principals discussing attending a $2,000-a-head golf outing of which Silver was the honorary chairman (apparently the subject of the article headline), and an email from our old buddy Karl O'Farrell to the effect that "They don't want the check to come from AEG."  But the quote is out of context and comes from a guy with some serious credibility issues.

This brings me back however to Hank Sheinkopf, the much-respected consultant/strategist who worked on the Clinton/Gore media team in 1996, has a long list of mostly Democratic clients, and who is regularly quoted by newspaper and TV reporters for his political expertise.  As I've mentioned before, it absolutely boggles the mind that this guy's career has apparently been totally unaffected by the fact that he repeatedly pled the Fifth Amendment when questioned for the AEG report by Inspector General Joseph Fisch.  (He is currently the senior strategist for NYC mayoral candidate Bill Thompson.)  Sheinkopf played a key role in the affair according to the report, obtaining a key State Senate analysis on the bidders and passing it along to AEG.  On more than one occasion, Fisch observes that Sheinkopf "invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions on the grounds that the answers might criminally implicate him, when questioned concerning his role in procuring and disseminating the memoranda."

Yet this guy just goes on his merry way, and none of the reporters who rely on his expertise have ever seemed to ask him about it.  Until now.  
“I have no obligation to be intimidated by him under any circumstances. I’m not a state employee,” Sheinkopf told The Post last week. “It’s none of his f--king business, how’s that?’
Seriously, dude?  Here was a chance to perhaps clear the air (not that anyone seems to care anyway) on a totally legitimate question, and that's the best he can do, to answer with profanity?  That's just pitiful.  And dumb.  Anyone who thinks Sheinkopf has something criminal to hide only believes that more so after reading that.

 - From the archives: The Inspector General's report on the AEG bidding (10/25/2010)

 - It's happy-happy time in the world of New York racing as the Saratoga meet opens on Friday.  So leave it to Jim Odato of the Albany Times-Union, in a distinctly Drape-ian type move, to take this particular opportunity to regurgitate the ol' 'racing is dying' meme.  Now, to be fair, the facts are the facts - the numbers over the last few years are bad, and there's no doubt that many tracks are staying in existence solely due to slots.  Plus, Odato does make an effort to present more optimistic and opposing views, and quotes NYTHA president Rick Violette saying in response: "Our fan base has been dying off? They've been saying that forever.....It's like saying too many sick people are dying in the hospital."

It's more the timing of the article that stinks.  And in addition, here's yet another example of a reporter distorting facts and ignoring context to make his point.  Odato writes:
 But despite a top-notch field and good weather, this year's Belmont Stakes drew one of the smallest audiences in years, down 44.6 percent from the year before.  On-track betting fell 22.3 percent, while off-track "handle" dropped 5.8 percent.
Of course, he doesn't mention the fact that the prior year, there was a horse going for the Triple Crown.....until the day before the race of course, but still, a lot of people had come to town and had made plans to go.  There were also the new security measures which surely didn't help attendance.  And if a reporter is going to write on a topic about which he does not know much, he should make damn sure he gets his facts straight.  Del Mar hardly has a "roughly 109-day schedule."  Can't imagine where he got that random number from.  Maybe from the NY Post?  (Though that statement will be more accurate next year when Del Mar takes over some of Hollywood Park's dates.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On Casino Politics and Ethics

Interesting article online at the Times the other day about Ellenville, NY, one of the towns up in the Catskills with a site vying for a casino. The Nevele was once a booming resort there, and a group is trying to revive it as a gambling palace.  Already bills itself as The Nevele Resort, Casino, and Spa.

I'm rather surprised to see that they link to the article (which will appear - perhaps a longer version - in the print edition of the Sunday Magazine section) because it's mostly skeptical.

Chad Cotti, an economist at the University of Connecticut, who has studied the effects of legalizing gambling in numerous counties, found that [pro- and anti-casino groups] overstate their cases. Cotti told me about two significant observations he made from his data. When a casino was built in a rural area with little employment, there would usually be a sudden spike in jobs, partly because casinos tend to have more workers per guest than other forms of recreation, like movie theaters or ball parks. But those jobs were unlikely to lead to ancillary businesses that could lift the prospects of the greater economy. At the same time, placing casinos in remote areas seemed to increase the number of fatal car crashes. “It’s not that people drink more at casinos,” he said. “It’s that the miles driven after drinking is so much higher.” These two effects — more jobs and more crashes — create something of an economic riddle. To lower instances of drunken driving, it would make sense to put casinos closer to dense population centers. But casinos in big cities have no noticeable impact on overall employment. They don’t add jobs, they just switch around the jobs that already exist.
The Nevele’s developers project 1,600 new jobs once the casino is running, in around 2016. That would represent around 1 percent of the work force of Ulster County. And unlike a new factory, which can encourage subsidiary investment from suppliers, an isolated casino, Cotti’s research has shown, has virtually no multiplier effect. [New York Times]
State Senator John Bonacic, the Republican Chairman of the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, was in the Catskills area this past week trying to rally support for the referendum.
"It's critical for us in upstate, in the Catskills, to get the vote out," Bonacic said, noting that the major roadblock may come from New York City, where the mayor's race is likely to be the most hotly contested November election. []
Therein lies the twisted politics and ethics of the upcoming vote.  Voters here in the city will not be affected either way by the outcome of the referendum for seven years (or so we're told).  Personally, I'm dead set against it, both as a racing aficionado who sees the competition as a threat, and as one who believes that states shouldn't be balancing budgets on the backs of problem gamblers.  However, I know someone with a place in Ellenville and have been there, and I feel for the people. As the Times piece reports, it's a depressing place. People there need jobs, and they need them now.  So, who am I, down here in the city, to determine their fate?

It's not something I take lightly; don't want to be cruel towards communities that have been begging for casinos to try and help them out of their morass for years. Decades even. Then again, I look at Ozone Park, and we see what the Aqueduct racino has done for that community. Not a hell of a lot.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Three Amigos Set a Reunion Date

The three merry warriors from the ol' Triple Crown Trail now well behind us are traipsing off on their separate ways; but have agreed to reunite and reconvene in Saratoga for the Travers.  Orb, who will not win another race this year, will train up to the race.  I'm not surprised that he's getting a break; more and more, thinking that he shot his wad in the spring.  The Derby winner will hang out at Fair Hill Training Center for now.

 “It’s not like I’m going to send him up there the week before the [Travers] but there are so many things here he can do that he can’t do at Saratoga,” McGaughey said.

McGaughey was referring to the hyperbaric chamber and cold, saltwater spa treatments. [DRF]
Yeah, but.....I thought Saratoga is the place with the spa treatments?  It is after all, The SPAAAAH, as Durkin will soon be saying.  Well, anyway, Preakness winner Oxbow, who will likely continue to put forth honest efforts, will do so next in the Haskell at Monmouth, where he'll face Verrazano in one of the more intriguing matchups to come.   Not only is the purse for that race a cool million, but, as David Grening reported in the Form, both he and owner Brad Kelley get a 25K windfall just for showing up with a Triple Crown winner.  Nice!  Lukas, bless his soul, isn't shy about letting us know how he determines the horse's campaign.
 Lukas said that he has been so impressed with Oxbow since his runner-up finish in the Belmont that “if the Swaps would have been half-a-million dollars like it was years ago I would have run him in the Swaps."
Palace Malice will run in the Jim Dandy on July 27.
 "Actually, (trainer) Todd Pletcher put him back in work shortly after the Belmont, or he was going to tear the barn down." [Miami Herald]
 So said Dogwood president Cot Campbell.  This horse still doesn't have a "normal" race since the Risen Star by which to really evaluate him.  There was the trouble in the Louisiana Derby, the Blue Grass on synth, the blinkers-on mishap in the Derby; and winning the Belmont Stakes in a slow time has hardly proven to be a guaranteed harbinger of future success in recent years.  Having said that, I'd sure be interested in knowing his futures odds for the Classic.  I'd easily rate him the most likely of the three to be competitive in that race.

 - At Belmont on Thursday, guess the word was out on Ari the Adventurer, 1-9 in her first time out of the gate for the Toddster, are you kidding me?  Only a four horse field, but still.  Won by 6 3/4.  She's a two-year old daughter of the rookie sire Pioneer ofthe Nile, standing for $15K at Winstar.  According to the Maiden Watch blog on "Ari the Adventurer is the 3rd winner for Pioneerof the Nile, whose 6 runners have finished in the top 3 in all of their starts."  She's out of a mare by Forest Wildcat; and other than the fact that she's the 4th winner from five foals from the dam, there ain't much to see on her catalog page.

Pletcher also won the 9th when Path of Dreams ($15) graduated, on the grass, in her 5th start.  She's a three-year old daughter of Giant's Causeway (and a half to the graded turf winner Excited), out of the grassy stakes winner Path of Thunder (a full sister to the multiple graded winner Spain, and the graded turf winner Fantastic Spain).

Read more here:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Timeform US

Perhaps you've seen something on Twitter, or on a forum, or on TVG about Timeform US, a new past performances product; the first significant new entrant into the space in many years.  So, with commercial launch now imminent, I must now disclose my involvement in the project.  Been mentioning for awhile that I was working on something cool, and more recently have been referring to 'my speed figures' and pace projections.  I've been working at the company since October 2011, at first part time, and then full time starting last September.  (Full-enough disclosure is that my interest in the company's success goes beyond that just of an employee.)

[UPDATE - Adding the TimeformUS logo to make the SEO guy happy.]

In that time, we've gone from a really cool independent start-up to a really cool independent start-up in partnership with Betfair, the owner of Timeform, the British-based global past performance provider, and TVG.  But while our product bears the name of its British parent, Timeform US is strictly an American affair.  I'm working with an incredibly smart and passionate team of horseplayers - including founder Marc Attenberg, who helped develop Formulator during his years at DRF - with a mission to make a positive contribution to the game that we love.  Our main office is in beautiful Long Island City, and we have personnel spread, literally, coast to coast.

Before I tell you a little bit more about the product, first want to mention how this will effect this blog. First and foremost, I will not - at least after this post!! - be using this platform to shamelessly plug the product.  Sure, I'll likely mention new features as they are rolled out; and will obviously now refer exclusively to Timeform US, and the figs and facts therein, in my handicapping.  But here, I'm not going to tout it or beg and cajole you to switch.  I know that many of us get used to and attached to a particular pp product, and it's not easy to change to something unfamiliar.  We went through many different iterations of design, finally landing on one which we believe is, while markedly different from what's out there, intuitive, logical, and easy to adapt to.  So I will request this one time that you please at least check it out.  There are two free races offered every day on the homepage (with a brief sign-up process); TVG members can purchase cards for $1.50 from the TVG Store. Commercial launch is imminent, and I think you'll really like the pricing options for single cards, as well as daily and monthly unlimited plans.

The bad news about Left at the Gate is that, given my personal and financial interest in this venture, I no longer feel free to say whatever I want about whoever I want whenever I feel like it.  We have business arrangements, licensing agreements and partnerships with a number of industry entities, and it will not serve my or the company's interests to offend them.  Most obviously, I won't be making fun of TVG anymore, and will never again misspell Shrupp's name.  In addition, there are ongoing issues - such as exchange wagering - which could affect our business model; so I won't be commenting on those one way or another.

Similarly, neither will I be using this blog to trash our competition. (Though my criticism of Churchill Downs for their neglect of the venerable BRIS site is grandfathered in.)  The Daily Racing Form has served us extraordinarily well (except perhaps during their dark period during the life of the Racing Times), and will surely continue to do so.  (Also should mention the BRIS pp's - rarely have used them, but they're chock full of information and I know they have a loyal following as well.)  Formulator is the bellweather of the online past performance industry, and our respect for that product is such that we measure the adequacy of our content against theirs.  However, we feel as if the time for new and innovative features in past performances is long overdue.  And our product is modern and mobile -  designed optimally for iPads (including the mini) and other tablets, as well as for desktops and laptops. (And there's a print option for those who can't live without paper and pen.)  "Play the races the way you live today" - a tagline I wish I'd come up with myself.

The good news about this blog is that these changes have actually been in voluntary effect for some time now, so there really shouldn't be any immediate difference.  And there's no conflict when it comes to reveling in the joys of the game, trying to pick winners, debating races before and after the fact, and writing about how to make the game better.  Nor when it comes to writing about the twisted politics of New York racing, and the drama surrounding the upcoming casino referendum.  So the plan is to carry on.

Back to the product - on our blog, we have a post which lists features and includes some tutorial videos on how to use them.  So, I'll send you there and I'm not going to regurgitate everything; but wanted to mention a few points.

 - This is the format:

Color coded ovals by surface to make preferences and patterns stand out; fractions underneath the applicable chart call (and you can switch between accrued and incremental splits as well as between official times and our adjusted fractions); number of days between races; expanded trouble lines.  Speed figures on the right; class figures for the race on the left.  Click on the oval for complete race conditions.

- The mad genius behind our speed figures is Craig Milkowski, who some of you may know from his site.  He's a pace guy, as you might surmise; and the effect of pace is included in our speed figures, which are on the Timeform scale, so they top out in the high 140s (Frankel territory).  You'll notice differences - some fairly significant ones on a relative basis among horses in a race - from what you're using now.  You may actually see a horse who finished second earn a better figure than the winner if it overcame an adverse pace scenario.  Suffice to say we think they're pretty good; you synth players will be quite pleased I think.  The best testimonial I can provide is my own - regular readers surely have noticed (or should have, anyway!) that my handicapping has been pretty good on this site over the last several months.  Some nice-priced winners, some even nicer-priced near misses, some recent tough luck losers, and horses that have been consistently live even when they haven't won. 

 - Pace Projector has already proven itself to be a great tool.  It's an animated estimation of where the horses will be after the first 1/4 miles for sprints; 1/2 mile for routes.  Gets flagged for races projected to be particularly slow or fast early.   I know it's easy (and obnoxious) to cherry pick examples after the race...and I promise not to do so again.  But let's take a look at the Pace Projector for two of the big stakes races this past weekend.  This is the Dwyer:

The #2 horse, Moreno, went wire to wire and paid $13.40.   And the Queen's Plate:

The #1 horse, Midnight Aria, held on to pay $35.20.  Obviously, it ain't always that easy and this tool isn't always right.  But these were pretty fantastic.

 - I've seen emails and heard discussion amongst those developing our trainer and pedigree ratings.  Talk about a bunch of wonks!  They have every base covered, and I think these are gonna be great.  Trainer ratings go back five years of win and in-the-money stats, but are weighted for recency and also have ROI for win and show factored in.  Pedigree ratings will be available soon.

 - Foreign running lines - how cool is this?  Have these expanded comments for all the races from England and Ireland; speed figures for other European races and those from Dubai. These race comments put even our NYRA chart-calling friend to shame!  And the speed figure teams on both sides of the Atlantic are working to ensure that they are as much on the same scale as is possible given the differences in the sport here and there.

 - Race Finder allows simulcast players to plug in parameters such as time of day, class, distance, surface, and size of field, and get a list of preferred races across North America to play.

In the coming months, we'll be rolling out additional features (some of them to be included in a higher-priced deluxe version) such as pedigree ratings, race charts with drill down features, replays, pace figures, detailed first-time starter information and much more.  Again, please check out the Timeform US blog for more information.  By all means, please feel free to leave a comment or email me with criticisms and suggestions.  And as always, thanks so much for reading!  Being so consumed with work these days, it's only because of you that I would even consider carrying on at this point after 8 1/2 years of being left at the gate.  Best of luck and have a great day!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Belmont Quick Pick

Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend.  We are actually still down at my mom's house in Florida, where the weather has been erratic, at best.  But hey, what does one expect here this time of year?

Anyway, let's try a quick pick at Belmont.  My last two tries here have run well while encountering traffic issues, but they were surely live and that's the best one can hope for so we'll keep plugging away.  In the 7th, He's So Chic (7-2) goes first off the claim for trainer Bruce Levine, proficient in that category (but claiming from the high percentage Jamie Ness barn).  Nine-year old son of Jump Start still knows how to find the winner's circle.  Ran into some tough luck in his last; got left at the gate, made a big wide move on the sweeping Belmont turn and understandably hung a bit late at seven furlongs.  Though he won two back at a mile, I think that this six furlong distance his is best; 12 of his 15 career wins have come at that distance (from 30 starts).  He was compromised by slow paces up front in his last two tries at the distance; my pace projector says that won't be the case today with inside speed from Real Estate and the returning (with sharp workouts) Western Prospector.  Also like the 70 days off since his last race; perusing through his pp's shows good efforts with similar time away.  Castellano jumps on, and he has a win on the horse last fall.  Make a Fortune (3-1) is the first-time Jacobson and surely has the back figs to take this one.  Our excuse for trying to beat this barn this time is that it's his first try and Belmont, and he's never won on a fast dirt track.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Belmont 4th of July

In the 4th, Moonlit Sonnet (8-1) tries grassy state-bred stakes company after an eventful first try against winners.  She dropped far further back than usual after being bumped at the break - "lost action" according to the chart caller - and came with a fine rally for second to repeat winner (in open company) Pure Amour.  That experience should serve this filly well in a race with a couple of speedballs in Discreet Marq (2-1) and Roses for Romney (3-1).  And it was a solid move forward on my speed figures.  Trainer Lisa Lewis may have just three winners from 17 starters at the meet, but virtually every horse she has sent out has been live, with four 2nds, three 3rds, and only one of them finishing worse than 4th.  Daughter of G1 turf winner Shakespeare out of a Woodman mare who descends from the family of G1 turf winner Both Ends Burning would seem to have room for further improvement in her sixth career start.  Discreet Marq comes off her win in the G2 Sands Point, her first start for trainer Christophe Clement, is strictly the one to beat and I'll use her on top to save.  My pace figures give her an early edge over Roses for Romney, though no doubt she's gonna get pushed but that filly.

In the 7th, Mah Jong Maddnes (7-2) cuts back to seven furlongs and this should be right in her wheelhouse.  She won at this distance on this course, and first off the layoff, two races back in a fast race, beating next out winner Ornellia.  That was accomplished with a closing running style that she seems to evolved to starting last fall.  She stretched out to a mile in her last and found herself on the inside surrounded by rivals.  Irad Ortiz Jr seemed to have little choice but gun her through to the lead when presented with the opportunity around the turn, and she faded late.  Don't think that's what they want to do with this filly; so looking for her to bounce back at the shorter distance and turn the tables on Lawless Miss (5-2), who defeated her soundly that time.  Normandy (9-2) is first off the claim for Jacobson; oh, boy.  Not only that, she figures to be lone speed should the rail horse not take to the turf.  However, as we mentioned presciently the other day (and how tough a trip did Image of Noon have), turf sprints are not this barn's specialty.  The extra furlong shouldn't help either.   And Jacobson is in a mini one-for-14 "slump."  Best of luck and have a great holiday!