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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cheating Goes Beyond Drugs

 - So, a reader emails with respect to the last post to say that the sentence from NY Times' columnist Michael Powell that I cited as being false is actually true.  He pointed out that the milkshaking of A One Rocket by trainer Greg Martin did indeed become part of a wider-ranging federal investigation and indictment; and did also occur a decade ago.  And also, part of the investigation involved big bets cashed on the horse...which I know is often referred to as "race fixing" or "rigging of bets."  Though personally, I instead would define those terms as participants conspiring with each other to pre-determine a race's outcome, as in the superfecta scandal that rocked NY harness racing back in the 70s (which led to that bet being banned here for many years).

So, I still think that the statement was deceptive - it wasn't NYRA that was indicted (though the helpful reader argues that it could be interpreted as an indictment of the organization running the show); it was a single incident (though the helpful reader certainly could have also have argued that it was the only incident that was actually caught, and was surely indicative of a more pervasive problem); and, as stated above, I don't really consider cashing a bet on a juiced horse to be bet rigging.  It's cashing a bet on a juiced horse.  But I'll have to retract the assertion that the statement was false and apologize to the writer....which I'm happy to do, as Powell does great work, as I said.  (He still got the part about the board members wrong.)

 - By the way, and following up on the second part of that last post, drugs isn't the only way that horsemen can cheat.  "Cheating" has become a euphemism for drug use, but there are surely other ways in which the betting public is deceived.  Perhaps the most common one in my experience is when you see a horse running repeatedly on a surface, at a distance, and/or at a level that is clearly unsuitable for it; predictably, with little success.  But then one day you see the horse entered for conditions that have suited it far better in the past.....sometimes a race or two after that good race has dropped off the running lines in the print edition of the Form.  Then, we say that the trainer is "playing games"....that he/she is "trying"today, attempting to "cash a bet" or "make a score."

That's cheating as far as I'm concerned.  If someone is running a horse in a race for a purpose other than trying to win, then one can usually say that the betting public is being deceived.  In some cases the motive is apparent, and that betting public just needs to know better, such as in the case of, say, an Eclipse champion making its first start after a layoff in a race a few weeks before a big stakes it is aiming for.  But there's no doubt that horses are at times entered in races for more devious purposes.  And then of course there are the times when a horse "has a knee" and is dropped in class solely in the hope of getting it claimed.

However, in most of these cases (with exceptions regarding the latter scenario), we don't hear the kind of anger that is fueled by drug use.  Don't hear people urging a boycott of tracks in which the stewards don't question trainers about why their horses are running in races in which they seem outmatched or unsuited, and reporting any pertinent information to the betting public (ha).  Usually we shrug, shake our heads with a knowing smirk, think about what a cool, interesting, and fun game this is, and move on.

Now, I'm not equating those kinds of shenanigans with doping a horse.  The act of inserting a hypodermic and injecting some foreign substance into a horse's vein crosses a red line.  However, to those who claim that doping a horse is harmful to their health and well-being, I would argue that running horses in company or on surfaces that they clearly do not prefer can surely cause injuries and death as well, and is no less insensitive to the welfare of the animal.  Additionally, I consider the matter of 'trainer intent' an element of a race which needs to be factored into my handicapping, and usually blame myself for missing it.  But I don't expect to have to guess when a horse is juiced (however obvious it sometimes may seem based on the way a barn's horses have been over-performing).

And besides, the point isn't which form of cheating is the worst.  It's the fact that horse racing is, always has been, and (hopefully!) always will be, a bit of a scoundrel's game.  And to me, that was always part of the fun and the allure of the game....and it's surely part of its character, color, and history.  I didn't start out my degenerate horseplayer career thinking that I was getting involved in a particularly honest pursuit. I started it standing on the apron at Roosevelt Raceway watching for signals we thought certain drivers might give when they were "going" (one I remember was when one of the Popfingers - Frank or William - would come back last when the horses started scoring after the post parade); or hanging around the windows where the big shots with the inside information would bet, trying to overhear some tips.

Again and as always, I'm certainly not saying that the industry shouldn't do their utmost to prevent cheating drug use.  But you could eliminate that tomorrow, and this game would still be one featuring shady characters doing their best to manipulate the odds to tilt them in their favor, at your expense.  And, given the nature of the beast, there ain't really anything anyone can do about it.  As far as I'm concerned, why for heaven's sake would they even want to?  If you want your gambling to be antiseptic and completely beyond reproach, then go sit in front of a slot machine for a few hours.

 - Entries are in for Saturday's super Super Saturday program, and my first impression upon looking at the Jockey Club Gold Cup is this: based on the hype we're seeing about the three-year olds Orb and Palace Malice, any value to be found in this race is going to be on one of the older horses.  Based solely on speed figures (especially with the TimeformUS numbers that I use), the two sophomores are going to have to improve quite a bit to beat horses like Cross Traffic, Flat Out, and perhaps even Alpha and Last Gunfighter.  (The Beyers are closer, and rate Last Gunfighter slower than either three-year old.)  If either of the three-year olds are going to improve enough to win, I think it clearly will Palace Malice, who, one day hopefully before he's retired, perhaps will be able to put together a couple of clean races and we'll find out just how good he is.  As I've been saying, I don't think Orb will win another race this year, and will be all in against him.

Cross Traffic rather stands out here on the TimeformUS figs. While there may be distance questions as this son of Unbridled's Song out of a sprint-stakes winning Cure the Blues mare goes beyond a mile and an eighth the first time, I don't know that either Orb's Derby win aided by the pace meltdown and achieved with a final quarter of 26.07; nor Palace Malice's win at the freaky Belmont distance in a final half mile of 54.14, are particularly convincing distance answers either.  Between Cross Traffic and the Belmont-loving, and defending Gold Cup champ, Flat Out, these three-year olds are going to have to run their eyeballs out just to have a shot here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Another Writer Gone Awry about NYRA

Michael Powell is the proprietor of the Gotham column which appears regularly in the New York City section in the New York Times, and he does a fantastic job of highlighting matters of inequality, injustice (and specifically with tales of abuse of authority by the NYC police that you don't read in the news), and political hypocrisy in our great city.

And that's exactly the direction in which his column Where Bettors Go to Lose, Some Doubts seemed to be headed.

 It was early Monday morning, and I was inside the Resort World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack, which looks like an airport departure lounge mated with a pinball machine. There were no smiles and no talk, and eye contact was reserved for the slot machine. 
Our governor has developed a pronounced taste for gambling’s revenue streams. He has put a constitutional referendum on the ballot to allow full-fledged casinos, proposing to raise money for schools by letting the industry run its fingers through the pockets of working New Yorkers.

However, then it took a turn into an area with which Mr. Powell is obviously not familiar, and the resulting misinformation is all too well familiar to us, and not only from the New York Times.
It’s intriguing to examine the effort to reform a related gambling enterprise: the New York Racing Association, now controlled by the state. This industry, which oversees racetracks, fell into a despond of corruption a decade back, with the drugging of horses and rigging of bets. Federal prosecutors circled.
Oh, really?  I think the only accurate element of this assertion is the timing.  Indeed, it was a decade ago that this "industry," NYRA, was indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges.  Except that it had absolutely nothing to do with "drugging of horses and rigging of bets."  It was instead a tax evasion and money laundering scheme (amongst other transgressions) by some mutuel clerks, and NYRA management which turned a blind eye.  Not to minimize those allegations at all.....but somebody who doesn't know better would think that New York tracks were a circus of hypodermics and horsemen conspiring to determine the results of races in advance.

Of course, different people have different opinions as to the level of drug use at NYRA tracks, then and now.  While that has recently risen to the level of state intervention, it's surely never attracted the attention of federal prosecutors.   However, amidst all of the invective, accurate or not, we've heard directed at NYRA over this last decade by politicians and by newspaper editorial boards, I do not recall seeing nor hearing accusations regarding fixed races, which is what I can only assume this writer is saying when he refers to "rigging of bets" since he obviously doesn't know enough about the game to imply anything more complex than that.  Don't think we've even heard that from his NY Times colleague Joe Drape.  So I have no clue as to where he's getting that.  All I know is that it's false, and, given the profound nature of the accusation, it seems almost libelous.

Powell then returns to territory more familiar to him, though still including factual errors and significant omissions.  He points out that Governor Cuomo appointed two "family retainers" to the NYRA Board; but one of those he named, Michael Del Giudice, was actually appointed by Sheldon Silver.  The other, Vincent Tese, is, according to the writer, an "executive compensation guru" with a history of a laissez-faire attitude towards excessive corporate salaries.
Inevitably, Mr. Tese suggested that the racing association’s chief executive needed more money. He recommended $300,000 with a $250,000 incentive pay package, much more than the current chief executive made at his last job.
What is not mentioned here is that the previous NYRA CEO made well more than that as a base salary, and that this compensation, which was ultimately agreed to, was able to attract only an industry novice who will, we're told, be hiring a more experienced hand, no doubt also at a six figure salary.  Which will probably make the whole exercise a wash in terms of salary.

 - Saw a discussion on Twitter yesterday prompted by Ray Paulick with respect to this article from his website in which a horse owner suggests, among other things, that bettors should boycott tracks which they feel are not doing enough to stop cheating.  Unsurprisingly, that prompted some to speculate that that might eliminate all tracks from their betting!  Indeed, we know there's probably some kind of cheating going on at every track (and every stadium, and every Olympic event, and every day in the stock market, and....); and the purely subjective question of which tracks are "doing enough" could surely lead the most principled amongst us to abandon the game altogether.

I dunno....seems to me that if one adopted that philosophy, then they wouldn't be doing much of anything.  Do you think there's a single stock brokerage company at which there is no cheating, and that those companies are all "doing enough" to stop it?  Is every professional (or non-professional) sports league (or association) "doing enough" to stop the cheating which occurs in each and every one of them? Do you think that your health or property insurers are all totally on the up-and-up and conducting their business solely with you in mind, and so as not to cheat you as they claim in their advertising?  How about your bank?  Hell, if I adhered to these standards, guess I would even stop going to my rock shows, since the promoters and the bands regularly cheat the public by withholding tickets to create the illusion that the shows are sold out, create demand that isn't there, and then rip off unsuspecting suckers by selling them on StubHub for twice the face value.

Not saying that tracks shouldn't be doing their utmost to uphold the integrity of the races, of course.  But, as I've said many times before, man, it's only a game (for me anyway).  Don't take this the wrong way, but I think if someone can't find some trainer who he/she feels is overachieving, place a bet, and then smile and yell "JUICE" as the horse is coming down the stretch, then I think that maybe they should find another way to spend their time.  This industry has to get over this current wave of self-flagellation prompted in large part it seems by the stories in the Times.  I don't really see why it feels the need to hold itself to a far higher standard than any other endeavor that involves money and which therefore inevitably and unavoidably includes a small minority that is cheating to gain an edge.   Jeez, I read my Twitter feed and it seems like half the racing content is directed towards some kind of complaining or hand-wringing over something.  Makes me wonder sometimes if anyone is having fun doing this anymore.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pick Six Blowed Up, Real Good

Four bettors must have been feeling pretty damn good about their chances to score a Pick Six jackpot of nearly $135,000 as favored Gridiron Great stormed past the eighth pole with the lead in the finale at Belmont on Wednesday.  But Smokey Brown, at 24.25-to-1, the second longest shot in the field, came flying home from absolutely nowhere, and blowed that Pick Six up.  He blowed it up real good!

The carryover for Thursday's card is $539,765.  Smokey Brown is trained by John Toscano Jr., who has been quite sharp the last few days - two winners last Friday, a close third with a 37-1 shot on Saturday, and a close second with Driven By Solar in the 5th in addition to Smokey Brown on Wednesday.  Tough to make much of a case for him on form; "showed little" in his only prior grass effort, at the same 25K maiden claiming level, at Saratoga.   Interesting pedigree though; by Big Brown, out of a Dynaformer mare, inbred 5x3 to the great turf sire Roberto.  And a fair amount of Euro turf/distance influence under the third dam.

Also contributing to the maddnes and mayhem was Mah Jong Maddnes ($26.20), who took the 7th for trainer John Morrison; his second winner of the day, as the stupidly-named Let Me Be Nuts ($10.20) won the 4th. Here's a guy who hadn't had that many starters this year (51) and had only won three of them; now he gets two in one day, funny game.  He also had Sylvia T run a close second last week at 14-1.  So I suppose he merits a look these days.  

[And, in fact, in the 10th on Thursday, Morrison starts Ampa's Girl (9-2). Dropped this one to maiden claimers two races back, but this will be her first effort at this level on grass.  In each of her three maiden special turf starts, she earned TimeformUS figs that are easily good enough to win here.]

In the first, debut runner Storm Swept was 5-2 morning line for Pletcher, off to a slow start at the meet at 18-3-6-4.  She was dead as a doornail on the board, but got going late and rallied to win at 6.90-to-1 "with only occasional stick action from the left side interrupting a strong hand ride." Storm Swept is a two-year old by Stormy Atlantic out of a Rubiano mare; and she's a half sister to Changing Weather, a stakes winner and a nice horse who earned over 300K last decade.

 - In Thursday's 7th, Fiddlers Chico (6-1) goes for trainer Jena Antonucci; and I've been trying to catch this barn, which has been going pretty well of late. A couple of winners the first week of the meet; and then I thought I hit paydirt with Uncle Mitcho at 19-1 on Saturday before 45-1 Gossip Column came to get the money late.  That kinda sucked.  Fiddlers Chico has put forth mostly honest efforts in his eight attempts at graduation, especially here at his home base at Belmont, where his TimeformUS speed figs are quite competitive as he drops to basement level here.  In his last, at Saratoga, his chances were severely compromised after a poor start and traffic in the first turn, leaving him little chance to get back into the slow-paced affair.  Don't know that he'll get much of a quicker pace here, but there are no killers in this field, and the blinkers added in the last race didn't have a chance to be effective given his troubles.  Castellano jumps off to ride Plausibly (5-1); but, honestly, Javier didn't do this horse any favors last time, and Solis rode the aforementioned Uncle Mitcho for the barn.  I'll take the change as a boost in the odds rather than as a negative. Easy Reach (6-1) tries the flat after two jumping races off a two-year layoff, and has an old turf fig that makes him a bit scary.  Summer Shiner (3-1) drops in class for Linda Rice, who showed signs of life towards the end of Saratoga, but continues to send out a lot of well-bet losers; stand against (possible kiss of death warning).

Wow, the Pick Six players must be thrilled about the 8th race, a two-year old state-bred maiden affair on the grass in which all the horses who have actually run are stretching out to a mile off lousy efforts in sprints, dirt and turf.  Good luck with that one guys.  I'm not going there, but will just mention one who at least looks a bit interesting on pedigree.  Takeoff Your Hat (12-1), first-time out for Phil Serpe, is by first-year sire Cosmonaut, a multiple-graded stakes winner on grass, out of an Unbridled's Song mare who's a half to a Group II winner in England; second dam won stakes on grass too.  Also has a half-brother, John's Song, who earned over $100K on grass.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Silence Could be Golden for Casino Supporters

We haven't heard any campaigning at all from either side on the casino referendum, as reported last week by Casey Seiler on the Capitol Confidential blog, and, more expansively, by Tom Precious in the Buffalo News on Monday.  Not surprising it's been quiet to this point considering the summer months and the attention on the recent primaries.  But Precious reports that some casino advocates feel that a planned $20 million expenditure may not even be necessary.

Some of the nation’s top casino companies and real estate developers looking to build gambling halls in New York State have a growing sense that they might have to open their wallets only slightly to win the referendum.

“There seems to be an inevitability about the passage of it. We’re just not seeing any opposition,” said Michael R. Treanor, an investor in a proposed casino and hotel project at a shuttered Catskills resort. [Buffalo News]
 No, we're not seeing any opposition, are we?
 "I'm surprised so far by the lack of organized opposition," said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. "There seems to be a kind of passivity, and I'm not sure where it's coming from." [Capitol Confidential]
 Well, I think it's clear where it's coming from.  For one thing, opponents don't have the money to compete with big gambling interests, and politics always comes down to money, doesn't it?
 Opponents of expanded gambling say they plan to rely on a grass-roots – and inexpensive – effort using social media, church bulletins, email chains and the news media to promote their side of the issue.

“We took a small ad out in the Pennysaver in Sullivan County for $600. That’s about it,” said Stephen W. Shafer, chairman of the Buffalo-based Coalition Against Casino Gambling in New York. [Buffalo News]
  Yeah, don't know if a campaign in local Pennysavers is quite going to do the job.  Whats more, as Precious points out:
 Opponents face more than just at a money disadvantage. They say the battle is unfair because the gambling companies have the full support of state government.  
Indeed, the governor has taken several steps to promote the passage of the measure.  He dulled the urgency of the measure when he announced his plan to expand VLT's beyond the racetracks even should the measure fail.  He negotiated agreements with three Indian tribes, granting them territorial exclusivity, thus taking those deep-pocketed potential opponents completely out of the game.  Similarly, I've speculated here in the past that Cuomo made a back room deal with the New York Gaming Association to gain its support.  I believe that will become clear when, should the referendum pass, casinos are awarded to NYGA members Saratoga Harness and Tioga Downs, as well as to Empire Resorts, in which Genting has a piece.  (NYGA supports the measure but will not actively campaign for its passage.)  Tioga Down is owned of course by Jeff Gural.  He's received widespread praise, including here, for his efforts to revitalize the harness game at the Meadowlands and to clean up the game with his aggressive anti-drug measures.  However, he's surely not supporting the amendment because he thinks it will be good for harness (or any other kind of horse) racing, which it surely will not.  Here we see where his true interests lie; in his bank account.

And, perhaps most significantly, as discussed here in my post the other day, and as succinctly articulated by Casey Seiler in his Capital Confidential piece:
 Perhaps the most significant piece of advocacy for passage can be found on the November ballot itself.
 In case you missed it, the ballot question reads as follows:
"The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?"
You know those signs as you approach the polling place that warn that electioneering is not permitted beyond this point?  If I stood beyond that point and handed out leaflets with that exact language, even without advising which way to vote (which hardly even seems necessary), you can be sure I would be promptly led away by one of the bored cops assigned there.  Yet, Governor Cuomo has succeeded in having that persuasively one-sided language on the ballot itself!

The arrogance of inserting this language is exceeded only by its sheer sinister brilliance.  If I were a casino advocate, I would think really hard about doing any campaigning whatsoever.  Why do anything to bring any attention to the matter at all?  Why stir up debate on an issue on which passionate opponents could surely make a compelling case against the government balancing the budget in such a regressive and repulsive manner, when the ballot practically directs voters on which way to vote?  Supporters were concerned that the vote would be decided by NYC voters who don't have a clear interest in the issue (since casinos will supposedly be barred from the area for seven years).  But it instead could be to their clear advantage to have it decided by NYC voters who are focused on the mayoral and other local races, and who simply haven't thought twice about casinos before going to vote.  This referendum may already have been decided in some office in the Executive Mansion in Albany, Governor Cuomo's idea of the democratic process at work.

 - Two day carryover at Belmont as racing resumes today; some longshots contributing to the cause over the weekend.  Two of them were courtesy of trainer John Kimmel on Sunday; he scored in the 5th with Tracey's Belle, who was 10-1 and just as easily could have been 100-1 coming off her debut, a distant 9th at 48-1 at Finger Lakes.  And his 10th race winner Run to Mama ($47.60) was no less incongruous, mounting an unlikely wide rally to win despite having shown virtually nothing in four prior efforts.  Hard to make any kind of red-board case for either of those for this streak-prone barn.

The good karma for trainer Leah Gyarmati generated by her Grade 1 win in the Spinaway at Saratoga has carried over with a solid 7-2-2-1 start at Belmont.  On Saturday, her first-time starter Noble Moon wired the 5th race at 25-1, hanging on over Pletcher's 4-5 favorite Divine Energy.  Here's another winning son of Malibu Moon, this one out of a Kingmambo mare who's a half to some handy stakes winners in Silver Moon, Prospector's Song, and Musical Ghost.  In the following race, Gossip Column ($101) was the first of two triple digit winners on the weekend, for trainer Joe Orseno, and completed a $1,447 daily double.  This horse hadn't seen the winner's circle in his last 12 starts and apparently appreciated the shorten-up in distance.

Biggest bombshell of the weekend was when Concealed got the bob at 62 to 1 in the 8th on Sunday for trainer Luis Miranda, his second winner, from seven starters, at the meeting.  First-time on the grass for this three-year old daughter of Officer out of a Cat Thief mare who's a half to the NY-bred stakes winner (on dirt) Bigger is Bettor, thus contributing to the bigger is better Pick Six pool today.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fix Is In on Casino Referendum Language

The casino referendum will have the odds skewed in its favor due to the wording of the measure that voters will see when they enter the voting booths slip their ballot into the scanner on November 5.  It reads like a New York Gaming Association press release.

 "The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?"
Now, I don't know what the percentage of voters will be learning of the referendum for the first time at the polling place.  But, in a vote that is expected to be close, those voters could conceivably make the difference.  And what self-respecting voter would vote against job growth, aid to schools, and lower property taxes?  Just never you mind about problem gambling!

It's not clear at exactly what point the ballot question was turned into a campaign commercial; but according to Michael Gormley of the Associated Press, there's no doubt that Governor Cuomo's office had a heavy hand in it (as well as ensuring that it's the first question on the referendum portion of the ballot).
Before it was recast by Cuomo and the Legislature, the referendum stated simply: "The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos. If approved, the amendment would permit commercial casino gambling in New York state."
Indeed, according to the NY Times, a spokeswoman for the governor confirmed that her office had consulted with the Board of Elections on all six of the ballot proposals as a part of “longstanding practice,” but that the language was ultimately up to that Board.  However, not only are the other five worded in a neutral manner, they're virtually unreadable as opposed to the short and sweet language of the casino proposal, which obviously stands out and points the voter in the direction desired by the governor.  It's outrageous.  But apparently not illegal.
Referenda are supposed summarize a law passed by the Legislature to change the constitution. The added benefits of tax breaks and school aid, however, aren't listed in the law.

"This one seems particularly heavily spun," said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz. "I don't think there's anything illegal about it ... it's OK, but I don't think it's good."

Benjamin said a group could sue over the casino referendum language, but neither law nor the constitution requires an objective presentation of an issue to voters. [AP]

 - At Belmont on Thursday, another winner for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who had two on Wednesday.  Divided Attention ($12.20) was making her second career start while stretching out to the one-turn mile; and - a hat tip here for Doug Salvatore on the TimeformUS blog - she's a half-sister to Folklore, who adored that route as a two-year old, winning the Matron by 14 lengths, as well as the BC Juvenile Fillies, also over this track.

Gary Contessa took the 6th with Carolinian ($5.60), a two-year old trying grass for the first time.  I made some good money on this barn during the last week at Saratoga with young horses on grass - including Duff One, who completed the exacta in the PG Johnson for two-year old colts.  Not a category one would generally associate with this barn, but worth keeping an eye on as we move through the Belmont meet.  Carolinian is by Yes It's True out of an Always A Classic mare who's a half to a couple of grass stakes winner.

Two winners on the day for Rudy Rodriguez; three winners in the last five starters for this barn.

And quite an interesting day close to the day for trainer Chris Englehart, who took the 8th with Mewannarose ($56), and then just missed a boxcar late double when Greatest Dream missed the 9th by a neck at 31-1!  This barn has two winners and three seconds at this meet, and has been in the money with its last eight starters here and at Saratoga.  So beware; he has one starter on Thursday, Navajo Ca Lo (10-1) in the 5th, first time off the claim with a couple of altogether decent efforts over the track in the spring.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

NYRA, Pick Six Bettor, Buoyed at Belmont

 - Didn't take long for NYRA to issue a press release on Saturday evening extolling an uptick in business on opening day at Belmont.

Buoyed by the debut of a new, 15 percent-takeout Pick 5 wager with a 50-cent minimum, on-track handle and attendance totals for Saturday's opening day of the Belmont Park Fall Meeting easily exceeded those of the 2012 Fall opener.  On-track handle on Belmont races totaled $1,740,269, up 13 percent from $1,540,601 last year.  Attendance today was 6,549, a 42 percent gain from 4,598 in 2012. [NYRA]
Just a few days earlier, NYRA was put in the unusual position of reporting on a decline in attendance and handle at Saratoga, so I guess it was nice to have some good news to report.  We won't even quibble in that a check of the charts from last year's opening day on the Equibase website shows that there were a couple of showers during the card, as opposed to the perfect weather on Saturday.

[And, did you know that you can indeed access, for free, historical charts going back to 1991, from our good friends at Equibase?  I didn't, and man, I could spend a lot of time there.   And it's nice to be Equibase, both the monopoly supplier of racing data to past performance providers and others, and a competitor who is able to attract web traffic by displaying unique features like historical charts that others pay it to display themselves.  I imagine there are other industries out there somewhere with this type of arrangement (that haven't been sued by the Justice Department) and would guess that they're probably just as screwed up as this one.]

I don't know if I'd say that the attendance was "buoyed" by the debut of the Pick 5 - rather doubt that; but it surely provided a boost to the handle.  NYRA is introducing another 15 percent-takeout bet on Thursday with the Pick 4 wager it is conducting in partnership with Penn National.  Might seem like a random pairing, but obviously the handiwork of Penn Nat's Director of Racing Dan Silver, who left NYRA to take that position last year.  And a nice job by the racing secretary there; two tough races to close out the Pick 4 wager and kick off their card.  (Hopefully the weather will cooperate at both tracks.)  Great lead-in for Penn National, and a chance to NYRA to offer another low takeout wager.  You hear people complain that "NYRA has the takeout too high," but the rates for existing bets are a part of the racing and wagering law, and would have to be changed by legislators in Albany.  And I don't need to elaborate any further than that. NYRA and the Racing and Wagering Board have apparently found a way around that obstacle in creating these new wagers, so nice work there.

Whatever the reason for the attendance gain on Saturday, I would hardly take it as the beginning of a trend; anymore that I take the declines at Saratoga as a portend of a downward cycle there.  For now, anyway. Despite the fact that the declines came despite the remarkable weather, I find it more curious than alarming.   It is possible I suppose that the fact that the meet is too long is finally catching up.  But it takes more than one year to establish a trend, and I'll consider it a statistical quirk until and unless it happens again.  

Though the weather will be hard to duplicate.  Even when the track was sloppy and most of the grass races were washed away the last three days (causing, according to NYRA, all-sources handle to dip into negative territory), the weather was mostly pleasant on track for the races.  

Jeff Scott states his case in the Saratogian against extending the meet, and does a good job presenting some facts and figures to demonstrate how the "quality of racing" has declined, at least in terms of claiming tags and the number of turf sprints, the latter apparently deemed by the writer to denote un-quality.  I dunno, I thought they were pretty fun to bet and to watch, which, as I've noted here many times, is what makes for a quality day in my view.  Having said that, his point that the meet has already lost a certain amount of glow as the racing has become undoubtedly cheaper is well-taken.  Don't know how much it would affect on-track business though considering that most of the people hanging out in the back there wouldn't know the difference if they were running three-legged mule races up front.

 - One lucky bettor pulled in $423,424 by Picking Six correctly at Belmont on Wednesday, with a more typical 2,032 on hand; the attendance obviously not buoyed by the carryover.  The sequence included three first-time starters, one of them a 27-1 bombshell that led it off.  Summerdale ($56) beat out Easy Living, another Clement first-timer on the grass who ran extremely well (even if this one lost as the favorite).  In the 6th, My Place ($7) was a rare first-out winner for Mott.  And in the 7th, Princess Adelyn ($21.80) won for Kiaran McLaughlin, second winner of the day for this barn which got so hot towards the end of Saratoga.  Princess Adelyn, running in her debut for a 40K tag, is a three-year old daughter of Tale of the Cat, out of a Formal Gold mare who is a half-sister to the Derby/Preakness winner and spectacular failure at stud, Smarty Jones.