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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Morning Derby Notes (Before the Draw)

As you might have noticed, I'm writing about the Derby here and also in my Today in Racing column over at the TimeformUS blog.  And yes, I'm repeating stuff.  So, please forgive me if you're reading both, and some of it sounds familiar!

Tapiture was the other worker besides Hoppertunity, who we discussed in the prior post, on Monday.  It was a "typical Steve Asmussen work" we are told - a nice and easy half in 50.16 seconds.  Of course, there's little 'typical' around the trainer these days.  While there's a pretty good chance he'll be standing in the winner's circle on Friday with Untapable, I'd be quite surprised if he wins the Derby with this colt. I know many people would consider that to be a "nightmare" scenario.  However, I've seen Asmussen interviewed this week, and he seems quite relaxed and happy.  I'm sure he would do a perfectly fine job addressing any questions and putting a rational and human face before the cameras amidst the controversy swirling about him.

I watched Tuesday's Pursuit of the Crown telecast on HRTV, and they are pretty much down to mostly filler at this point.  General a Rod was the only horse who worked out.  If you missed it, he was sold on Monday.  His prior owner, one J. Armando Rodriguez, relinquished all ownership interest in the colt.  If that's not a direct message as to how he feels about his Derby chances, I don't know what is!  You gotta love that....take the money and run, while you can!  Anyway, that was supposedly the final timed workout of the week.  I've heard of scheduled three furlong "blowouts" for Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong on Thursday; but Contessa says nothing of the sort regarding the former in Tuesday's Churchill Downs Derby report (also filled with filler); just that he'll school in the paddock before the fifth race.

Uncle Sigh was equipped with the blinkers in which he will be outfitted for the first time, and The Mig reported on HRTV that he has been reshod to deal with "minor" foot issues. No, you don't want to hear about foot issues at this point.  Both Mike Welsch and the Mig said he looked "better" on Tuesday than he did on Monday, whatever that means; he was just doing a light jog both days.  This horse figures to be overlooked in the wagering, and I'm going to have at least a few bucks on him at 20-1 or something in that vicinity, hopefully higher.  I'm tossing his Wood, in which he was off a beat slow - he schooled in the starting gate on Tuesday - and was significantly wide on both turns.  Prior to that, he'd done little wrong other than failing, narrowly, to beat Samraat.  He's earned competitive TFUS speed figures; we have both he and Samraat rated higher than does Beyer, and, as I've said, I think that Samraat's Wood vindicates our numbers.  Uncle Sigh has the tactical speed to gain good position in the chaotic run to the first turn.  Barring another misstep at the start, of course.

My concern is that he could be a bit too one-paced to make the kind of finishing move needed to win this thing.  But he sure has a some interesting stamina influence on the female side of the pedigree.  By the solid middle-distance sire Indian Charlie, he's out of a dam by the 1992 Preakness winner Pine Bluff, whose progeny have an average winning distance of 7.36 furlongs.  Uncle Sigh is a half-brother to a couple of middle-distance stakes winners in Slew by Slew and Percussion.  And though the latter was second in the mile and a half Brooklyn Handicap, that was a horrible race from which I wouldn't necessarily draw conclusions.  More interesting if you delve back further: the dam is a half-sister to Symphony Sid, who won the 12 furlong Carlton F. Burke on the turf in front-running fashion.  Underneath the third dam, besides the champion 2yo filly Storm Song, is Better Life, a "champion stayer" in Japan who won up to about 1 3/8 miles; Balladry, stakes placed in marathon turf stakes up to a mile and a half; and Midsummer Fair, another Japanese distance winner, at a mile and a quarter.  Peak back even further, and you'll find Flit-to, a multiple-graded stakes winner on the grass from the 70s who won up to ten furlongs. And his 5th dam, Fleet Victress, was a fabulous turf filly who was a huge favorite of mine back in the 70s.  (Perhaps we'll see Uncle Sigh run on the turf some day.)  So yeah, I'm feeling this colt as a longshot play.

Mike Welsch was not happy with the demeanor of Wicked Strong on Tuesday.  Gave him a pass the prior day for being distracted on his first visit to the track.  But he said that, on Tuesday,  the colt continued to lack focus and was looking around, particularly at the new giant screen towering over the backstretch.  Now, perhaps this qualifies as "too much information."  But, as we know, the horse has not run well outside of his familiar surroundings in New York.  As I've been saying, he's getting a lot of attention from his Wood win, in which he had a lot of things go his way.  Consensus is he'll be second choice off of that race.  I think he'd be horribly overbet if so.  And in any event, I don't think he will hit the board.

Another horse getting talked up on Pursuit of the Crown was Dance With Fate.  He's getting raves for his workout at Santa Anita - a sharp half mile in 47 seconds - which you can watch here.  I've already gotten some blowback for dismissing him as a synthetic specialist.  (Just to clarify, when I wrote "what a joke," I was referring to his standing at #3 in the points based on a win on synthetic, and not to those of you who like him.  I disagree with those of you respectfully.)  Perhaps I underrated his dirt race last year in which he was second at Santa Anita, ahead of Tamarando (who I don't seem to notice in the Derby field), earning a modest TFUS speed figure of 91.  However, I cannot get past the remarks of his trainer, Peter Eurton, who, in the immediate aftermath of his G1 win in the Blue Grass, when he should have been basking in the fact that his horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby, said: “He doesn’t have the power to get through dirt. It will break away from him. I’ve seen him train over synthetics, and he gets over it so much easier.”  We all would pay good money to hear that kind of insider stuff from trainers, and here he said it right out in public.  Besides, that workout would not even have been on dirt had it not rained - it was scheduled for the turf.  It's one thing to work out on dirt - Eurton said he's always worked well on the stuff - and another thing to "power through" it in a race.  I'm throwing this horse out completely, and if he beats me, then very well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday Morning News and Derby Notes

Genting announced the details of its casino plan and it is, as was speculated, located in Tuxedo, in Orange County, just 43 miles from midtown Manhattan.  It's practically a straight shot up route 17.

 Unlike most of the other development plans, Genting declined to say how much it would spend on the proposed casino site, which would feature everything from two hotels to money for the state to build a new interchange on the New York State Thruway near its proposed casino site. The state next month will be setting minimum development price tags for the casino operators based, possibly, on which county they plan to locate. [Bloodhorse]
If they were to win a license for this project, it would create a Yonkers Raceway sandwich on Genting Rye, hold the onions and mustard please.  Already hurt by the presence of Resorts World at Aqueduct 23 miles to its south, this new ridiculously-named Sterling Forest Resort would lie less than 40 miles to its northwest.  This is not going to happen, in my opinion.  I am firmly sticking to my belief that the two Catskills/Hudson Valley casinos will be sited in the Catskills in order to fulfill the governor's promise of using the casinos to bring economic relief to long-suffering areas upstate.  For whatever that ultimately proves to be worth.

 - Hoppertunity was the workout star at Churchill on Monday.....though his was one of only two timed drills over the wet track.  In addition to the lack of depth of talent that is making this year's Derby relatively uninteresting (as uninteresting as a 20 horse race of animals who have been under the microscope for months and who have never run the distance can be), there's not going to be much from which to parse their fitness and affinity for the track the rest of this week.  The workouts are just about over, with the exception of General a Rod today; and perhaps blowouts by Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong on Thursday (though I'm not clear as to whether they will be official timed drills).

Anyway, I'm now favorably reconsidering Hoppertunity.  He worked in company with Baffert's Grade 1 winning Drill, and you can watch how well he handled the track here, via  He went five furlongs in 1:01.25, and earned effusive praise from DRF's Mike Welsch, and from Richard Migliore on HRTV's Pursuit of the Crown (a must-watch if you have that network).  Welsch caught him galloping out six furlongs in 1:14; seven furlongs in 1:27 1/5, "in hand the entire way."  And remember that Baffert commented that Garcia had trouble pulling him up.  Welsch called it one of the best works he's seen there, and it was his second impressive work, with the first one coming on a dry track.

So the horse is sharp, he's very lightly raced and obviously eligible to improve (as most of these are).  Forget his debut at seven furlongs, and his 4th in the Risen Star, which was only his third career start and in which he was impossibly wide.  He won the Rebel, earning a TFUS figure of 103.  He then improved his figure to a 107 when beaten by California Chrome in the SA Derby.  That isn't too far off the mark of the top numbers earned by Wicked Strong (117), Samraat (114), and California Chrome (113) - and it's going in the right direction.  (Beyer gave him a 100 for the Rebel, and had him regressing in the SA Derby.)  And we're about due for a Derby winner who hasn't raced at two, don't you think?  His pedigree is rather intriguing.  He's by Any Given Saturday out of Refugee, a mare by the Whitney/Jim Dandy winner Unaccounted For.  Refugee ran third in the Grade 2, mile and a half Orchid Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream in 2002; but she was in front at the mile and a quarter mark, and got the last quarter to that point in a snappy 23.78 seconds.  So certainly a hint of stamina there....if just a hint. [And I should have added that he's a half-brother to Baffert's fine multiple Grade 1 winner Executiveprivilege.]

Maybe Hoppertunity is the sharp and improving horse that will be somewhat overlooked in the betting.  Sometimes, when confronted with what seems like clear evidence that a horse isn't quite good enough to win - in this case, that last running line that shows him getting beat by five lengths by California Chrome - the bettors will be dissuaded enough to allow it to go off overlaid in the win pool.  With a Derby berth assured, it's entirely possible that Baffert did not have the colt fully cranked for that race.  If the workouts are any indication, he appears to be getting cranked now.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Intense Buzz on Intense Holiday

We have our first big buzz workout of the week, and it was by Intense Holiday, one of the Pletcher Derby quartet.  On Sunday, with Johnny V. aboard, the son of Harlan's Holiday earned accolades all around for his half mile blowout in 48.65 seconds, and for the smooth gallop-out that followed.  You can see how easily he did it here, via the site. Mike Welsch, the DRF clocker, called it the top workout of the morning "by many, many lengths."  Welsch got him coming home in 23 3/5, and reported that he was the only horse he caught in under 13 seconds for the furlong past the finish line.

Both jockey and trainer noted that Intense Holiday changed leads smoothly.  This had been a concern.  I'd read Haskin going on about his having "crossfired" in the Louisiana Derby; and while I don't know what that means, I do know that the esteemed correspondent for Bloodhorse, after so many months of spending far too much time following these horses, becomes increasingly incoherent in the final weeks and days leading up to the race.
Now, what does this mean, exactly?  I very much liked this horse's win in the Risen Star back in February.  Intense Holiday encountered early traffic, was 3-5 wide on the turn home, and closed with grim determination to overcome a seemingly insurmountable late gap.  He closed the final five-sixteenths in an impressive 30 4/5 seconds.  He then disappointed somewhat with a second place finish in the Louisiana Derby as the 9-5 favorite.  But he was closer to the pace than usual, which I took as an attempt at some schooling on the part of jockey Mike Smith. So I'm not really deterred by that race; in fact, I was hoping it would cause him to be overlooked in the wagering.  The thing is that he's never run particularly fast.  His top TFUS speed figure is the 100 he got for the Risen Star - not even the highest in that race, which was earned by pacesetting Albano. That number is far down on our list of top 3yo figures, led by Wicked Strong at 117.  (If you go to our partner site and scroll down, you can see all the top 3yo figures in the lower right corner.)  Beyer gave Intense Holiday a 97 for the Risen Star, as opposed to California Chrome's 108 in the San Felipe.  (I'm excluding Social Inclusion for this purpose until and unless he sneaks into the Derby field.)
As we know, these horses can improve, and quickly, so I wouldn't be bothered by his figures, as long as I was getting 15- or 20-1 on the chance that he has indeed progressed sufficiently to win on Saturday. Now, he has the buzz-y workout, maybe he follows that up with an impressive gallop later on this week, everyone is talking about it and you're talking maybe half those odds.  Then he's far less interesting and, at a certain odds level, becomes a horse to flat-out oppose.  After all, he's won once since graduating, and that was against a field that I don't think that highly of.
We Miss Artie was the hapless horse on the inside of Intense Holiday, and the Toddster was particularly frank in saying: "I’m not sure at all if he should be running in the Derby." Wow.  Those are words that an owner certainly does not want to hear.  Especially, I suppose, an owner as ambitious and as fond of smiling in the winner's circle as Ken Ramsey.  I dunno, one might think that an owner, in the best interest of the horse, would immediately declare his/her horse out after comments like that from the trainer. However, no word as of this writing, so I guess he's still in.  Because it's the Derby.
Danza also worked a half-mile for Pletcher, in 49.07, earning generally good reviews.  I'm not buying this horse, at all.  Got a competitive speed figure of 110 in winning the Arkansas Derby, but got the trip up the rail and beat a slow group that did not show much improvement as the preps moved along.  And I'm thinking he'll be overbet.
Negative workout reports on Wildcat Red and Vicar's In Trouble, two horses that I'd prefer to see well-reviewed so that they will get bet.  Don't think either of them has a chance.  Ride on Curlin worked seven furlongs in 1:29; Welsch got the last three furlongs in 37 flat, and termed it in "an OK work."  He was encouraged by the rider as they came down to the finish line.  You can see it here.  (In fact, you can see every Derby workout at Churchill on the site.  It has an efficient search function to find them by horse name too, so this is a fantastic tool for those of you into evaluating works for yourself.) Ride on Curlin is a horse I'm thinking can maybe hit the board.
Bad weather at Churchill today, but Baffert got a workout in with Hoppertunity - a half in 48.40 seconds - and said that Martin Garcia had "a tough time pulling him up."  Steve Asmussen didn't wait for the rain to stop, as Tapiture got a half in 50 second in a driving thunderstorm.  Hopefully, that does not qualify as animal abuse.  Yeah, I'm not particularly excited by either of those horses, either.
In fact, I'm not trembling with joy over most of these.  I could not even begin to tell you who or how I'm going to bet.  Post position and odds will be the main factors, and I see myself scrambling to get my bets in with just a few minutes to post.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday News and Notes

All three New York-based Derby contenders worked out there on Friday, with Samraat working a mile at Aqueduct and Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh breezing seven and five furlongs, respectively, over Belmont Park's training track. [] They all earned the usual accolades that we've come to expect from trainers before the big race.

Rick Violette (Samraat): "Time was only important if he went too fast, and he didn't. He went great."

Jimmy Jerkens (Wicked Strong): "As far as how he's doing, I couldn't be happier."

Gary Contessa (Uncle Sigh): ""His last quarter-mile was effortless and it was exactly what I was looking for. He came back like he can't even blow out a match."

Talk about clich├ęs! That's really helpful, eh? Uncle Sigh was equipped with blinkers, which he will add for the Derby. Contessa says not to worry about a Palace Malice scenario, that he's "rating kindly" with them in the A.M. His colt has been just a tad short in his matchups with Samraat, so I don't mind seeing his trainer try something new in order to get him over the top. Uncle Sigh should be a fairly big price after a very troubled trip in the Wood, and I think he'll be well worth considering with an OK post draw.

Samraat continued his routine of one mile works, though previously, Violette had shipped him down to Palm Meadows in between his NY races. He's a colt who should not mind the travel anyway. He's obviously a talented and consistent horse, and I like him a lot. But I'm wondering if he's perhaps a bit too one-paced to take the top prize in this particular race.

Wicked Strong showed the kind of running style that is more likely to win the Derby when he took the Wood, earning a TFUS speed figure of 117 that is tops amongst all the three-year olds. On the Beyer scale, by which most bettors will make their selections, he ranks second amongst the colts, four points lower than California Chrome (108). Wicked Strong had everything go his way in the Wood, and I believe that he's going to be grossly overbet come post time next Saturday. Depending on the post positions, I would not at all be surprised if he goes off as the second choice.

The Derby website presents a daily capsule look at the contenders in order of their points standings. That means that Dance With Fate, a horse who has run dismally on dirt, is mentioned third by virtue of his win on the Polytrack in the Blue Grass. What a joke. Yet, I'm seeing a fair amount of sentiment on Twitter that he has a chance. I hope that translates into action on the tote board.

Pletcher's quartet of Intense Holiday, We Miss Artie, Vinceremos, and Danza - which includes the horse I currently like - are all scheduled to work out tomorrow at Churchill.

Please click to read more at the TimeformUS blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

22 21 (20?) Casino Hopefuls Pay to Play

Here's the list of the 22 21 casino applicants who have submitted their $1 million application fee.  (21 because Saratoga harness is applying for two licenses.)  And actually maybe only 20 if you consider that two are listed as joint ventures between Cordish and Penn National.

1.  Caesars Entertainment
2.  Capital Region Gaming, LLC
3.  Concord Kiamesha LLC and Mohegan Gaming New York LLC by DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP
4.  CRCR Enterprises, LLC (a joint venture between The Cordish Companies and Penn National
Gaming, Inc)
5.   Empire Resorts
6.   Florida Acquisition Corp by Clairvest
7.   Greenetrack , Inc.
8.   Grossinger Development Corporation
9.   Howe Caves Development LLC
10. Hudson Valley Gaming, LLC
11. Nevele-R, LLC by Nevele Resort, Casino & Spa
12. NYS Funding, LLC by Och-Ziff Real Estate
13. OCCR Enterprises, LLC (a joint venture between The Cordish Companies and Penn National
Gaming, Inc)
14. PNK Development 33, LLC by Pinnacle Entertainment
15. Rolling Hills Entertainment LLC by Baker Botts LLP
16. RW Orange County LLC by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
17. Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. (I)
18. Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. (II)
19. Tioga Downs Racetrack LLC
20. Trading Cove New York, LLC
21. Traditions Resort & Casino
22. Wilmot Casino & Resort by Wilmorite, Inc.

#16 is Genting.  They are applying for a casino in an undisclosed location in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region.  The Times reports today that one location they are considering is in Tuxedo, about 40 miles from Manhattan, making it the closest location to New York City under review.  Genting of course also has an interest through a subsidiary in the Empire Resorts (the Monticello harness track owner) proposal at the Concord.  So, I imagine that their partners in that venture are not too thrilled, unless they are trying to pull some kind of deke to dissuade others to ultimately, by the June 30 deadline to submit a full application, abandon their Catskills bid.

Similarly, hard to say exactly what Saratoga Harness is up to with their second bid, which was approved last night by the Town of Newburgh board.  It's becoming apparent that the real reason that James Featherstonhaugh resigned as president NYGA was because he would be acting contrary to the interest of other NYGA members.  Yonkers would certainly be negatively affected by a casino in Newburgh, just about 55 miles away.  And any casino located in the Hudson Valley area would darken the prospects of one in the Catskills, such as the one at the Concord.  But Feathers is trying to frame this proposal as one that would not harm a Catskills facility.  

James Featherstonhaugh, a partner in Saratoga, said the Newburgh location would not interfere with a casino in Sullivan County, unlike proposals at locations at the southern end of Route 17. The Hudson Valley Casino & Resort would also capture Connecticut gamblers, he said.
 That seems like a stretch.  However, it is my opinion that it is highly unlikely that a casino license will be approved for Orange County.  I believe it is a compelling argument that the intent of this whole exercise is to benefit areas upstate; that's the whole theory behind the (theoretical) seven year moratorium on a casino in NYC.  After all, the law that authorized the four casinos that are being bid for is called the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act.  When Cuomo signed it, he said: “Our focus has been to bring jobs and boost local economies in Upstate New York, where decades of decline have taken their toll in our communities."

Now, it's true that things aren't so great in, for example, Newburgh.  However, I don't believe that's what the governor had in mind as 'upstate.'  There have been efforts to revive the long-suffering Catskills region via gambling for decades now, and, while I certainly could be wrong, I believe that time has come, and that the region will take priority and get both licenses.  Despite what Feathers says, any destination casino resort in a location 60 miles from Manhattan is going to seriously threaten any located in the Catskills.  I believe that the sentiment in Albany will be tilted towards the latter.  And that the "independent" siting board consisting of 2/3rds Cuomo cronies will follow suit.  (Still waiting for the other two appointees.)

Three of the applicants are apparently mysterious.
While most developers have made their New York casino plans known in recent months, little was known about three of the applicants, including a fee submitted by a capital management group known as Och-Ziff.

A spokesman for the group did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Lee Charles, a partner at Baker Botts LLP, said the law firm wasn't authorized to comment on the plans of its client, Rolling Hills Entertainment LLC. Rolling Hills was one of the developers to submit the application fee.

Contact information for Hudson Valley Gaming, LLC -- another group that submitted a fee -- could not be found Thursday. [Democrat & Chronicle]
The governor couldn't help himself, and had to do a little crowing.  
 “The cynics said, ‘You’re not going to get the applications, people are not going to apply, the time is done, gaming is over the curve....I think you’ve actually had more interest and it’s gone better than people suspected it might early on.” [NYT]
 Yeah, whatever, governor.  I think that the cynicism was directed more regarding the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region, which only attracted three bidders including Jeff Gural's Tioga Downs; the competitors there being the last two on the list, Traditions and Wilmot.  And the recent interest in Orange County is contrary to what he had in mind.  Let's see how this all shakes out when the minimum capital investment requirements are released next month; when the companies will really have to put their monies where their mouths and wallets are.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saratoga Harness Owners Look to Double the Fun

 - I have a couple of posts about last weekend's racing up at the TimeformUS blog, here and here.

 - Saratoga Casino & Raceway has released the details of their proposed casino in East Greenbush.

Yes, it will have "spectacular views of the Capital District," as well as the usual entertainment, retail, and lodging options.  But no water park, which I know must be a disappointment.  It contains the expected promises of jobs and economic benefits, both to the state at large and the local community. And the usual BS about what they're going to do to address problem gambling, as if they really care.  "We believe in a moral, social, and business responsibility to promote responsible gaming by our employees and patrons."  Right.  As I've said before, any facility that provides easy access to gambling at 10:00 on weekday mornings is not promoting responsible gaming.  Whatever.

No less than three times in the document, we are told that the owners have "decades of gaming experience."  Well, maybe I'm being too picky here. But the racino at the Saratoga harness track opened in 2004.  Now I suppose that, technically, horse racing is considered to be "gaming." However, I think that we all know what the term generally refers to. That's why "racing" and "casino" are always separate links on websites.  In the FAQ section on the Saratoga harness site, the answer to the question "Can I wager on horse racing from the gaming floor?" is no.  Again, perhaps I'm being too cynical in this case; but the point is that the claim is rather disingenuous, and gives the impression that the owners have decades of experience running the kind of facility that they are proposing to build. Which they don't.

In a surprising development, the folks at the Saratoga harness track will be submitting plans for a second casino; this one further downstate, in Newburgh.  Yeah, when we were told that James Featherstonhaugh was leaving his position at NYGA to pursue a casino, we didn't figure he'd be this busy!  They will submit their proposal to the Newburgh Town Board this evening.  Whether they really intend to bid for two casinos, or are just trying to ensure that they get at least one, remains to be seen.  You may be relieved to know that a spokesperson said "there are no plans to pursue any other licenses in New York."

Newburgh is in Orange County, which is a contentious subject.  Folks in the Catskills region had been assuming that the two licenses intended for the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region would both be sited there.  However, Orange County, with its proximity to New York City, is a prime location which is attracting much interest; including from Caesars World.  Potential developers further north fear that casinos there would doom their prospects; and the owners of the Empire Casino at Yonkers are not too thrilled either. There is sentiment in the state legislature against the idea too.
 But State Senator John J. Bonacic, a Republican who represents the Catskills, said the casino legislation was meant to create jobs and economic activity at the north end of the region, not in more prosperous Orange County.  [NYT]
Empire Resorts, the owner of Monticello Raceway that is hoping to build that casino at the Concord, argues that an Orange County casino, in addition to damaging their business, would be dilutive overall to the state's revenue.  “It won’t add to state revenues like a casino in Sullivan or Ulster counties."  But Orange County hopefuls will counter with predictions of their own.  A senior VP at Cordish which is proposing to build near Woodbury (the site of the Caesars proposal), said that a Catskills casino would be "recipe for disaster."  Of course, those in Sullivan County who have, for years/decades now, been hoping for a casino to revive their economy (for whatever that may ultimately be worth) might disagree with that assessment.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saratoga Harness Owners Throw in Towel, Look Elsewhere For Casino Site

Saratoga Casino & Raceway will not pursue a full-fledged casino at their existing site in the city; and that has to be considered a triumph for the democratic process.  Gee, we don't often get to say things like that in New York State, do we?  It's also a tribute to the fervor of the grass-root groups that pressed to ensure that the will of the voters was enforced.  They were relentless in using the decisive 57-43 margin by which the casino referendum was defeated there as a cudgel against a further expansion of gambling.  That margin is even more impressive when you consider the ballot language that almost demanded a vote in favor....Saratogians were having absolutely none of that!  The vote was affirmed by the City Council when it unanimously opposed the state casino law over the lack of local control that it provides.  And there's little doubt that the resolution resounded in Albany when the Gaming Commission clarified that approval by the appropriate local board was mandatory as a condition for a casino.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said in a statement that the owners of Saratoga    and Raceway "recognized that the majority of our citizens expressed their opposition to a full casino resort in our city." Yepsen noted that the state's new casino law was intended to help economically struggling cities and said Saratoga already has a "thriving downtown, successful city center, two horse race tracks and a wealth of natural beauty and cultural assets." [Associated Press]
However, this does not at all mean that James Featherstonhaugh and his partners at the harness track will not get their casino license.  Jimmy Feathers had been seen scouting possible alternate sites for some time, and now it appears he has landed on one.
"Saratoga Casino and Raceway intends to pursue a bid for a 'destination casino' license in East Greenbush," according to an official statement released today. "We will also continue to operate our successful facility in Saratoga and we will look forward to maintaining our strong partnerships within this community." [Albany Business Journal]
The last sentence is kinda funny because, faced with the opposition from the Saratoga community, the raceway owners' main response was to invoke fear of the consequences of a casino sited elsewhere on the racino and the city.  Since they're reportedly going ahead with their $30 million expansion at the racino, I can only assume that they're not really as concerned as they said they were.  And they raced to take down the website of Destination Saratoga, the raceway-funded group that advocated for the casino, perhaps because they didn't want their partners within this community to remember that, prior to their pivot to East Greenbush, they were saying things like this:
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.
Well, if they weren't flat out lying about how they thought Saratoga would be hurt by the competition, then I guess they don't really care what happens there as long as they are the ones building that casino elsewhere.  And it doesn't seem likely nor logical that they were ever going to cut jobs, considering that they were planning to expand their facility regardless of whether they got the casino.

To me, East Greenbush is little more than a signpost on Route 90 that signals that I have about a half hour to go until Saratoga.  It's across the Hudson, and to the south and east of Albany.  Its town board has already, and unanimously, passed a resolution approving a casino, as has the Rensselaer County Legislature.

“[T]he Town Board joins Rensselaer County and other area communities in declaring support for the siting of a casino in East Greenbush to allow for presentation of proposals that benefit the town and its residents,” the resolution states.

"It's still early, and we are looking to see what details and plans are presented," [town supervisor Keith Langley] stated. “The amount of guaranteed revenue, between $5 million to $7 million annually plus possibly more, would certainly help our Town deal with the financial burdens we inherited.” [Schenectady Gazette]
The process is in its nascent stages, as a specific site has not yet been identified, at least publicly.  The town is about 15 minutes from Exit 23 on the NYS Thruway, where developer David Flaum hopes to build his casino, possibly in partnership with Capital OTB.  Let the games, and the usual tired arguments, begin!
Supporters of the so-called 'E23' casino believe the East Greenbush proposal could galvanize support on the Albany Common Council because of concerns about the city losing the jobs and economic benefits that would otherwise go to East Greenbush.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Matter of Perception

Michele Obama has become the latest target of PETA.

The video is a part of a push by PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk to cut eggs from next Monday’s annual Easter egg roll, which Newkirk links to in a letter to the First Lady.

“I hope that after hearing their message, you will implement a new, humane tradition at the White House by using synthetic eggs that don’t require any animal to suffer,” Newkirk says in the letter.

Newkirk even takes a jab at Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative, saying “cruelly sourced, unhealthy eggs” are “primary contributors to some of our nation’s top killers, including heart disease and strokes.” [ABC News]
On their website, PETA has videos that document the treatment of egg-laying hens.  Now, we know full well that PETA crafts its videos to dramatize, proselytize, and propagandize to maximum effect.  However, there's no question that the practices depicted do exist, and it's rough stuff, tough to watch.  I'm not linking to it, you can find if you want.  However, as gruesome as it may be, if you're like me, it's not going to stop you from eating eggs.  Sure, the Head Chef buys only cage-free eggs, for whatever that may or may not be worth.  But, to be perfectly honest, I don't demand documentation of such when I go into a restaurant, like in a Portlandia episode.  And I would eat them in any event.  What can I say?  I'm not particularly proud, but like much of the world's population, I'm a carnivore.  It's a benefit from being blessed enough to be a member of the species that's at the top of the food chain.  Sure, sometimes when I'm eating meat, I do pause and think about it.  And then I chew the fat off the bone.  If you're Morrissey or Chrissie Hynde, or even just half as righteous on the topic as they, you have every right to judge me, and harshly.

But more towards the topic of this blog......I watched that, and thought - wow.  Now, THAT's animal abuse.  In case one still needs the context, it makes the stuff on the Scott Blasi video (not sure why it's referred to otherwise, Asmussen himself merely makes a cameo) look even more like what it largely is; as the Daily Racing Form's Jay Hovdey most succinctly put it, a confirmation of "the fact that men will say stupid things to try to impress women when they think no one is listening."  (And I'm still curious to know just exactly how she managed to inspire such intimate trust, and access.  Where is the oppo research on this woman?)  Even the innuendo in the video is hardly on the same scale of atrocity.

I think that if you consider, in this world in which we slaughter, eat, hunt - purely just for the sport of it - and otherwise disrespect animals as living beings, a global scale of animal abuse, on a scale of 1 to 10, the treatment of racehorses in this country might rank at about 1.7.  If that much.  Of course, we'd like it to be 1.  Unfortunately, when there are peoples' livelihoods at stake, that is never going to happen.  Still, my point here is that we in the horse racing industry are not such bad guys in the big picture.  Even including the bad guys that there no doubt are.  The problem, after years of getting hammered in the Times and now with the PETA video, is largely one of perception, the main point that Hovdey makes in his excellent above-mentioned column on Frank Stronach's new medication rules.
Those who believe perception is reality are duly alarmed. At the same time, those who believe perceptions can be incorrect and can be modified to more closely conform to reality have their work cut out, especially because it is becoming increasingly apparent that nothing of a unified nature will be done from inside the game about the darkening perceptions of horse racing, even in the face of racing’s more palatable realities.
So yes, initiatives like Stronach's are an important step towards reversing that perception; and so is....I suppose....the idea of releasing veterinary records for the Derby horses.  Personally, I have no interest in the latter, and to be perfectly frank, I myself don't lose sleep over the whole uniform medication rules and restrictions thing.  Sure, I draw the line at any practice that constitutes abuse or increases the chance of fatalities.  However, there will always be those who manage to bend the rules, if not outright skirt them, no matter what they eventually come to be.  And, I dunno, when I was first getting into the game all those many years ago, trying to figure out who was getting away with what and when was part of the challenge and - dare I say it?? - the fun.  As I've said, how much integrity can one really expect or demand when you are betting your hard-earned money on dumb animals?  Jeez, we're all so serious now.

But seriously, it's something that needs to be done.  It's an important element in fighting the prevailing perception.  Also because then we would no longer have to read columns like this one by Bill Finley.  I mean, I like Finley a lot, been reading him since he was covering the game for the Daily News.  But really, how many times can one write, and read, the same appeals over and over again?  In this particular column, the appeal was framed with respect to the silly suggestion that Asmussen should not come to the Derby.

I actually agree with Finley that he should come, but not for the same reason as he, and especially in a more perfect world in which racing would have the national spokesperson/PR machine that it desperately needs every bit as much as a national drug czar.  In the wake of the video's release, there were people on Twitter who posted photos of horses receiving tender loving care, and they were actually criticized by some who said they were missing the point.  But, with all due respect, it was they who were missing the point.  This industry urgently needs to fight back with some proselytizing and propagandizing of its own.

Assuming that NBC will do their duty and note the presence of the trainer amidst the controversy, it would be an amazing opportunity for somebody representing the industry in the absence of an official spokesperson - perhaps NTRA President Alex Waldrop, from whose somewhat less than full-throated defense some of the below points are taken from - to give and to spin as good as he gets.  Something like:

"Well of course we are concerned about any allegations of abuse such as the ones you mention.  But let me be clear:  We are proud of the fact that the overwhelming majority of our horsemen treat their animals with the utmost of care and compassion.  In fact, many owners go the extra mile to ensure, at their own expense, that their horses have a loving home after their racing days are over.

In the area of medication that has generated so much news, we have made great strides in the last few years.  Regulators in states that account for 80% of total betting handle are moving towards the adoption of uniform rules, reforms, and penalties.  In New York, which accounts for 20% of handle all by itself, adoption of just some of these reforms have already led to a 40% reduction in equine fatalities. And we have seen the rise of synthetic tracks which have proven to be far safer.  We are confident and determined to do even better, and with the help of our Equine Injury Database, and with the formation of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, we will.  

I would also like to point out however that, even in advance of these new reforms, out-of-competition testing of horses racing in states including New York, California, and Kentucky has failed to yield a single positive test for illegal substances from approximately 10,000 samples.  This proves definitively and beyond a doubt that the vast majority of our trainers and owners do indeed play within the rules.

And gentlemen, take a look around on this glorious day here at Churchill Downs.  [String music swelling.]  What a wonderful crowd we have on hand; over 140,000 here, and millions across the land, taking part in one of our great national traditions; the most exciting two minutes in sports. Horse racing is a part of our national heritage; an integral part of our American culture!   Be assured that we are working to ensure and maintain a horse racing industry that is safe, humane and prosperous, and which will continue to employ hundreds of thousands of people and generate millions in revenue for state and local economies!  

Or something like that.

Read more here:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Casino Bids All in the Details

Michael DeMasi writes in the Albany Business Review of the rather exacting demands of the casino application process.  Beyond the license fees of $20 to $70 million. 

165 different pieces of information, or "exhibits," including a business plan; market analysis; capital and financing structure; marketing plans; infrastructure requirements; internal controls and security systems; player database and loyalty program; construction timeline, affirmative action plan; and experience hiring the unemployed.
Well, that actually all starts like pretty basic information.  But you can read all of the 165 required pieces of information in the Table of Contents of the RFA itself here. Some of it is indeed pretty meticulous!
Submit  as  Exhibit  VIII.  C.7.a. - a  description  of  the  proposed  hotel(s),  including  the  types  of  rooms,  the  numbers  and  proposed  square  footage  of  each  type  of  room  at  full  build-out  and  for  each  phase,  if  applicable.    Describe  the  level  of  service  and,  if  known,  the  flag  or  brand  of  the  proposed  hotel.    If  more  than  one  level  of  service  and/or  flag  or  brand  is  intended,  describe  each  level  of  service  and/or  flag  or  brand  and  how  they  will  be  developed,  operated,  and  marketed  separately  but  may  be  operationally  combined. Provide  copies  of  any  arrangements  or  agreements  relating  to  branding,  franchising  and  hotel  loyalty  or  patronage  programs  planned  in  connection  to  the  proposed  hotel(s)  that  are  different  from  the  Applicant’s  or  the  Manager’s  branding  and  customer  loyalty  or  patronage  programs.
As gaming consultant John Boyd told DeMasi: "Unfortunately, for the casino operators--fortunately for the lawyers and regulators--this process will be longer in duration and much more expensive than it should be."  That could also be fortunate for the existing racinos, should the governor strongly suggest to his cronies who make up 2/3rds of the siting board that he wants the revenue flowing in as soon as possible; March of next year is the goal in his budget.  And a Gaming Commission spokesman confirmed: "New York's turnaround time--soup to nuts--will be under a year." While Empire Resorts and, perhaps, the Saratoga harness track, will be building new facilities, both could temporarily host table games at their existing facilities until the new ones are ready. 

 - According to a report by the New York State Commission of Public Ethics, Genting ranked 7th on the list of most money spent on lobbyists, with $1,368,500.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

E23 Casino Proposal Attracts Interest. And Opposition

The area around Exit 23 of the New York State Thruway, in Albany, is proving to be a popular location amongst prospective casino operators.  The proposal, being referred to as "E23," was devised by David Flaum, a Rochester shopping mall developer, in conjunction with Capitol OTB.  The site is on a parcel of land currently owned by the family of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and is off the beaten path enough to satisfy some of those concerned with urban issues related to casinos.  (And, like the proposal at the Concord, it also includes a water park.  Don't quite understand what is up with that!)  It was the subject of a meeting of the Albany city council (Common Council) on Monday night, where a resolution supporting the project was introduced, drawing the usual divided sentiment from the residents in attendance (though, according to this report, more against than in favor).

Patrick McCarthy, a spokesman for Flaum, said "somewhere around 10" different casino operators have contacted Flaum about the Albany casino project. A company with casino experience is a crucial factor in the proposals for one of the four casino licenses the state Gaming Commission will grant in three regions of upstate New York. [Albany Times-Union]
One of those operators, Pinnacle Entertainment, has met with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.  Pinnacle is the former Hollywood Park, Inc., before it sold the doomed racetrack of that name to Churchill Downs.  It currently owns Retama Park, Belterra Park (the former River Downs), and 14 casinos.

The developments in Albany are part of the flurry of activity in the Capitol District in reaction to the perception that the Saratoga Springs casino is dead.  That notion is a result of the Gaming Commission's announcement, as part of its request for applications, that local support of a casino is required.  In writing. 
Casino operators must submit a resolution from the host community showing support for granting the license.  That means the Saratoga Springs City Council would have to approve a resolution of support by the June 30 application deadline if the owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway pursue a license to offer live table games in addition to video slot machines--a decision that the owners of the racino are still weighing. [Albany Business Review]
As you may recall, the Saratoga City Council passed a resolution against a casino last month.

However, it was reported last week on Twitter that Saratoga Casino and Raceway principal James Featherstonhaugh is stepping down from the NY Gaming Association to focus on casino bid. That tweet was linked to a story behind a paywall, and I haven't seen a single word about it elsewhere.  However, a look at the NYGA website shows this:

Presuming that Jimmy Feathers has not resigned in order to go frolic at water parks, we can only presume that, despite the apparent setback, he has something up his sleeve.  Whether that involves an attempt to reverse the sentiment in Saratoga, somehow circumvent it, or develop a casino at a different location, remains to be seen.

 - We haven't heard news of late concerning the dispute at Monticello, where the horsemen are blocking the simulcast signal over the provision in the casino law that caps VLT revenue to purses at 2013 levels at existing racinos that get a casino license.  But apparently, somebody in Albany is paying attention.  Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the chairman of his chamber's Racing and Wagering Committee, has introduced a bill that would require payments towards purses and breeding funds above and beyond those levels.  The payments would begin once the casino achieves revenue 15% above its 2013 levels (that would trigger payments of 8% of total gaming revenues to purses; 1% to breeding), and are then based on a sliding scale with decreasing percentages based on higher revenue plateaus.  The bill would also require additional payments toward the marketing of racing.

Of course, it's just a bill in committee in the Assembly, so it would be a long road to it actually becoming law.  And one can be sure that the casino interests that have spent millions in lobbying and campaign contributions would rally their forces to oppose it.  But it's nice to see that at least one legislator is paying attention, and it hopefully provides at least a morale boost to the horsemen at Monticello.

 - Turf racing was scheduled to return to the Big A today, but the 6th race is now off the turf.  Probably a relief to bettors anyway, as only two of the 14 entrants had ever run on grass.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Wicked Wrong

I didn't mention Wicked Strong in any of my posts about the Wood because I didn't like him at all.  Guess I was wrong about that.  Perhaps my judgement was somewhat clouded by the fact that I liked him in the Holy Bull and picked him on this blog; and he ran just horribly, barely lifting a hoof.  I'll sometimes shut my mind to a horse that burns me like that, I must admit.  Not that I hold grudges or anything, but he just really sucked that day.

However, my antipathy towards the Wood winner went beyond that.  I liked Samraat and Uncle Sigh, thinking they could run back at least to their top figures earned in the Withers and Gotham (and, as always here, I'm talking about the TimeformUS figures.  We had those two colts rated pretty significantly higher than did Beyer, and in this particular case - and I think I've been pretty fair about this - our numbers were far closer to the mark.) So, Wicked Strong would have had to run an 18 point top to be competitive with the horses I liked, and I just didn't - and still don't - sense from his running lines that he had that kind of performance in him.  Sure, I know, he had his 'sneaky-good' 4th in Constitution's allowance race.  But I'm looking this time of the year for 3YO's who have shown development since two and look ready to explode, and I just didn't see that here.  I mean, his Holy Bull was so awful that I was thinking more in terms that he could run back to his Remsen, which wasn't that fast to start with, and is a race that wasn't looking all that great anymore between Wicked Strong, Honor Code's defeat in his return, and the indifferent performance by Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby.

What's more, a fair number of smart guys liked him - including our buddy Figless and, more significantly as far as the betting went, Andy Serling, who picked him second (and had the exacta box) - and he was bet down from his 15-1 morning line.  I perhaps would have considered him at twice the price that he went off.  Value, he was not, in my opinion.

So, I'm gonna go with 'Congratulations if you had him.'  You know, what you sometimes see someone write when you get the feeling that he/she is just a tad bitter and, worse yet, trying to say that you were lucky! Something I've seen Steve Crist write in the past, and all of our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family at this time.

As it turned out, Wicked Strong ran a 25 point top on the TFUS scale (17 on the Beyers) and earned a figure of 117 which is top amongst three-year olds this year.  Beyer gave him a 104, compared to 107 for California Chrome, and the 111 that Social Inclusion got for his allowance win; so still a strong number if not the top one.  Is he a legitimate Derby contender?  I'd say definitely.  Could very well be that he just didn't like it in Florida and was maturing all along despite the lackluster performances in the afternoons.  His breeding is fine, especially in this year of lackluster pedigrees amongst the contenders.  He's by a Derby runner-up out of a dam by a Derby winner, and he has the mile and a quarter Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Student Council in his female pedigree.  (The second dam of Student Council is the third dam of Wicked Strong.)

So yeah, if he once again gets an excellent post, an honest pace to close into (nearly a certainty), a nice uneventful inside trip around the first turn, no horses outside to hinder him when it's time to make his move, and a clear path down the lane, then sure, he could win the Derby.  But, at this point, a bit less than four weeks out, I'm thinking that I'd want something north of the 9-1 that he went off.

Anyway, I wrote more about the Wood at the TimeformUS blog here. And about California Chrome and his win in the Santa Anita Derby here. I got a little pushback in the office on my contention that the latter is the likely Derby favorite.  It was pointed out that the public has actually done a good job of identifying false favorites; and that they gravitate towards horses working well and/or with classic pedigrees.  But I don't know that there's anything about California Chrome that would make him a false favorite (as opposed to a beatable one, which I think he will be).  He's going to come into the race off four straight daylight victories with a total winning margin of 24 lengths, a resounding win over the Rebel winner (for comparative purposes), and the top Beyers in the field (unless Social Inclusion gets in).  [Should clarify here that I'm assuming that nobody in the Arkansas Derby jumps up to run an explosive number...and that I'm talking about dirt figures, in case someone in the Blue Grass does.] And while we know his pedigree is modest, who exactly are the 'pedigree' horses this year?  I don't see any horse with the depth of stamina that we saw in the pedigree of Revolutionary last year.  So, I do think that California Chrome is the likely post-time choice unless he works his way out of it and/or draws the 1 or 20 posts.

 - I didn't take any pictures of the new Longshots simulcast room/bar area when I was there on Saturday; but I'm sure you know the drill.  Tons of big screen TVs, with individual work spaces with their own TV.  Here's a photo from the NYRA site.

Over to the left as you walk in, there's a smaller room called the Elite Players Club (though nobody stopped me from walking in, and I surely do not qualify as such); and, to the right, the bar area.  A big rectangular bar surrounded by small (two-drink minimum) tables, and another big bank of big screen TVs.  Those of you familiar with the old Kelso and Man O'War rooms that used to be back there will surely recognize the footprint.  It's not particularly elaborate nor luxurious, but it's a solid job, just what the place has been lacking.  We could sit here and wonder what took so long, but I suppose that's between NYRA and Genting, and I would be quick to blame the latter.  As nice as it is, it's also obvious that it shouldn't have taken more than a few months to build....and, in fact, it didn't, once they finally got underway.

The $5 admission price (or free for NYRA Rewards members) will keep the crowd down.  There won't be a more crowded day at Aqueduct (approximately 12,000 fans on hand.....silly to announce precise numbers when you know it's inexact with people walking in and out through the casino); and while it was crowded with all the workspaces taken, there was seating available in the bar area and at the bar itself.  It was a good atmosphere, with people into both the racing and the sports; a big cheer went up when Ike Davis hit his game-winning grand slam HR. Yes, people were watching the Mets.

There are some kinks to work out.  There was no wifi (I was told it would be in place by Monday); no audio of race calls; and, despite the card on the bar tables picturing a variety of liquors (such as Knob Creek and Makers), the selection was limited (Jack Daniels the only bourbon, ugh).  But those are minor issues.  (Not much in the way of food options, and I'm not sure whether that is temporary, or not.)  All in all, I'd say it delivers what was promised and what we've been anticipating.  I could definitely see hanging out there with a group on a hot sultry August day, playing the races while they're up in Saratoga.

On the way out of the track, I overheard somebody saying "Why does everyone say this place is such a dump.  It's nice."  Aqueduct, nice?  But it is, for the most part. The renovation hasn't touched the seating outdoors on the apron or on the second floor, but otherwise, it's clean, freshly painted, and bright.  Charging $3 to get up to the Equestris level on Wood day made it a second option to Longshots as a haven from the crowd downstairs (and caused some audible grumbling).  And the bar in the Manhattan Terrace was actually open!  You could definitely sense the Chris Kay hospitality emphasis, as there was a myriad of smiling NYRA employees around the track to answer questions and direct people to where they wanted to go.

And last, but certainly not least, a big shout-out to anyone and everyone involved in preparing the track for this day.  It was as honest of a racetrack that one could ever ask for, as opposed to the nonsense we've seen at other tracks on their biggest racing days.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wood Day (Early)

I did some of the early races on the Wood card and now I'm going out, so this could be it.  I also previewed the Bay Shore on the TimeformUS blog, and wrote about the Wood in these two posts here.  That race will ultimately be a game time decision based on the tote.  But I am enamored with these NY-breds as I've said.  I also did a preview of the Ashland for TFUS.  But if my Horses in Focus at Keeneland on Friday are any indication, you should probably stay far away from that!

In the 1st, Denzel (3-1) has improved since being claimed by trainer Rudy Rodriguez.  There's a surprise for you.  Cuts back to a sprint after trying two turns for the first time in his 14 race career. Prior to that was a sharp second, missing by a nose (to an uncoupled stablemate) from well off the pace at Laurel, at this seven furlong distance.  That race has produced three next-out winners.  It also featured a hot pace, and a muddy track. I know he's not getting the latter, but he could possibly get the kind of pace he would need.  The 5 and 6 horses have good speed, and Jacobson has a couple entry including a speedy steed in Stealth Steed.  And try saying that four times, no less ten.  Thing about this field is that none of them have won at the distance, and most of them have been going shorter most of the time.  So I see some weary horses in the final eighth, and Denzel, with the best late pace rating in the field, should be coming at the end.

In the 4th, Starship Captain (3-1) makes his first-ever start on the main track here, for Contessa.  He claimed this 5yo last month, moved him up in claiming tag, ran him back six days later and scored a game win, earning a TFUS speed figure of 94 which is better than any recent number earned by any of these.  In his last, he was three wide in futile pursuit of a leader allowed to set a slow pace, and faded. And we have the track that day rated as very speed favoring.  Pace Projector has this as a slow pace as well, but we have issues with the projected leader, Pleaseandthankyou (5-2), who was uncharacteristically lethargic coming off a layoff and now, after an additional 76 days, drops in class. Extra half-furlong could be a question for Starship Captain, but I think 3-1 is about fair.  And Wilmer Garcia, in the saddle for the win two back, returns to ride here.

In the 5th, Chilton (6-1) is an interesting one, returning three days after his first off the claim for trainer Michelle Nevin.  Over the last year, she is one-for-six, and three times in the money, with horses on running 1-7 days rest.  This 5yo gelding has been racing mostly long, but he won two races back when he cut back to six furlongs for his prior trainer, Bruce Brown; earning a TFUS figure of 88 which is quite competitive here,.  In that race, he tracked a pace which we have rated as fast, and went on to win by three.  Has some pretty good turf sprint efforts in his back form too.  On Wednesday, he debuted for Ms. Nevin in a flat mile, and showed early speed before fading to 4th. We'll see if he really goes, but surely this sharp barn sees some good reason to do so if he does.  Here Comes Tommy (5-1) has earned figures in his last two that can take this race.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Wood, Keeneland, and Nuance

The Wood drew a field of 11, and wow!  It's a far more complex picture than I simplistically contemplated the other day when jumping the gun. Social Inclusion drew the outside 11 post, and his having the lead going into the turn is far from certain.  Here's what the TimeformUS Pace Projector looks like; it's the projected positions after a half mile (with the field listed below it; I stole that from Bossert's blog in the Daily News).

1. Kid Cruz  Manny Franco  Linda Rice 20-1
2. Wicked Strong  Rajiv Maragh  James Jerkens 15-1
3. Noble Moon  Irad Ortiz Jr.  Leah Gyarmati 12-1
4. Harpoon  John Velazquez  Todd Pletcher 8-1
5. Los Borrachos  Cornelio Velasquez  William Mott 30-1
6. Kristo  Martin Garcia  John Sadler 6-1
7. Schivarelli  Javier Castellano  Eddie Kenneally 15-1
8. Samraat  Jose Ortiz  Richard Violette 7-2
9. Effinex  Rosario Montanez  David Smith 50-1
10. Uncle Sigh  Corey Nakatani  Gary Contessa 5-1
11. Social Inclusion  Luis Contreras  Manny Azpurua 2-1

Now, of course, Pace Projector is computer generated based on recent early pace figures earned by each horse, and it doesn't take into account the strategy involved with jockeys riding in a Grade 1 for a possible Derby berth jockeying and jostling for crucial position going into the turn.  And those early pace figures place Schivarelli in front early, and Social Inclusion 4th.  The Eddie Kenneally-trained colt has PPs that look a bit like those of Social Inclusion; a six furlong maiden win (albeit from off the pace) and a smashing wire-to-wire allowance win around two turns.  Of course, he didn't beat the likes of Honor Code in the latter race; but he did actually earn a TFUS speed figure of 114 that is tied with Social Inclusion's allowance effort for the best number earned by any three-year old this year. He gets Castellano for the Wood.  His freak race came in the mud, which he's unlikely to get here.  But his first race was on a fast track, and though he didn't have the lead, he had a horrible start, and the chart comment notes climb early, eager, pull bit.  So it definitely seems like he wants/needs to be in front no matter what the track condition.

As for the other horses shown in front of Social Inclusion, Noble Moon, the #3 horse on the rail behind Schivarelli, returns for Leah Gyarmati 91 days after his Jerome win.  He's also shown sharp early speed when he wasn't getting bumped at the start, and has a good inside post from which to make a run for the lead.  His trainer says "He appears to be ready," not the most effusive comment I've heard from a trainer before a race.  Uncle Sigh, I'll get to in a moment.

Social Inclusion's early pace figures are mitigated by those from his allowance win, which we have rated as quite slow.  Due to that lethargic pace that he was allowed to set, his raw speed figure of 119 was downgraded to his speed figure of 114 (which appears as 112 in the running line for the Wood because it's been adjusted down for the increased weight in this race. Frankly, I don't agree with that approach at all, but that's how it works.)  Reader kyle made a great point the other day in that the way Social Inclusion did finish so strongly indicates that he could very well be rated.  Given his post and the potential speed inside of him, he may have to be in order to get the first or second place finish that he needs to make the Kentucky Derby. His owner, however, doesn't seem to have any regrets about shipping him up here.
"Our plan was to come here for the Wood and then go directly to the Preakness, but last time he ran so good we started thinking about the Derby and the Triple Crown," owner Ronald Sanchez said. "This horse is really special. If you see the workouts he does, he's floating. Last Saturday he went in :46 4/5 and galloped out in :59 3/5, so easy. [BRIS]
Looking at the others listed at single digit morning line odds, I don't like Kristo or Harpoon at all, and hope they go off at those prices.  Neither seems fast enough on the TFUS speed figures, and I don't get the feeling that either is likely to improve enough on Saturday. I think 5-1 could be a great price on Uncle Sigh; but, as I said the other day, I think he's going to be ridden more to not lose, as in, not earn any Derby points.  4th place will probably do it, but I'm sure they'd love to be in the money. Well, they'd love to win, of course. But Contessa was extremely disappointed when Rydilluc missed out last year, and he really wants to get there in May. So I think he will instruct his rider accordingly to try and get a forward inside position from the ten post and not do anything rash. I'm sure he'd be happy to suck along for third if that's the best option. There's definitely a price that I'd bet him though.

And, for that matter, I think 7-2 would be a perfectly fair price for Samraat. He's undefeated, fast (at least on our figures), and has already answered some important questions. He stretched out, he's won on the lead, he's rated and won from a tracking position, he's looked horses in the eye and prevailed.  Neither he nor Uncle Sigh have yet answered the class question; the Wood should go at least part ways towards doing that.  Maybe I'm being provincial, but I really like both of these colts. It would be really cool if they resume their rivalry in the Wood with the others watching from far behind.

 - Keeneland is switching back to dirt, and I don't really even know what to say.  Well, I do know what to say, but I've just been too bent out of shape about it to now sit here and put it into words.  So I'll refer you to Pullthepocket, who sums it up perfectly - the big fields, the record handle, the competitive racing, he hits all the high points.  I mean, talk about fixing something that ain't broke!

A couple of additional points:  I remember when the synthetic tracks first came on the scene with great hoopla, Beyer wrote an article lamenting that the sport would become "boringly homogenized" because all of the synthetic surfaces would be uniform.  Of course, that wasn't the case, and I would now turn that argument around at the prospect of those surfaces largely disappearing. As Beyer wrote in that piece, eight years ago: "It is difficult enough to find edges in the modern betting game, and many of those edges come from detecting differences in racetracks." Eight years after synthetics were introduced, you can still always find underlays and overlays due to bettors ignoring switches in surface or failing to recognize a surface preference. Those routine betting opportunities will be gone once synthetics disappear, or virtually disappear, as seems inevitable now.

Then there's just the timing of all this. PETA released their video and the Times followed up with their coordinated hit piece, we see stats shortly thereafter that indicate that synthetic tracks are safer and cause less fatal injuries, and the next day - the very next day! - we have Keeneland telling us they're going back to dirt. I mean, seriously. Barry Weisbod is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, Ogden Phipps says enough is enough with these negative media reports, and then we have, in the immediate wake of the synthetic stats, this clown at Keeneland struggling to explain why they'd be changing surfaces, babbling about top trainers and top horses not coming there while I'm handicapping the Ashland with 13 horses, when it's obvious that all they care about is the money and prestige that comes from the Breeders' Cup and maybe their feelings are a little hurt because the top Derby contenders prep elsewhere.

And sure, the commenters on my last post tell me that I'm wrong, bringing up valid points about those injury stats - that they are skewed because the cheapest racing takes place on dirt so maybe we shouldn't be lobbing apples and oranges into one basket and calling it significant and so on. They may very well be right. But meanwhile, Drape is already out there on Twitter with "This is horse racing: Stats show Synthetic tracks are safest by far. So Keeneland decides to go back to dirt," and you know what's coming in his next attack in the Times.  [UPDATE: Here it is, from Friday's edition.] And when somebody brings up the fact that those stats lack nuance, you know what he says?

This is the equivalent of a political campaign against the sport, and when politicians are reduced to trying to explain the finer points of nuance, you know they are on the losing end.  It doesn't work.  (Kinda like me trying to explain why Social Inclusion has a 114 figure in the chart but a 112 in the past performances.)  Perception is what counts, and nuance never makes for effective messaging.  Racing has been on the losing end of the media assault for years now, and it sure ain't getting any better with follies like this. We hear how the sport needs a national drug czar. I think it could use a national public relations czar. Where does one apply?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Wednesday Morning News and Notes

Uncle Sigh worked out for the Wood; according to David Grening on his Twitter account, it was a 1-2 mile 47.61 secs, last 1-4 in 22.86 out 5-8ths in 59.99. The esteemed NY correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, whose insights are available for free on Twitter, continued:

Shortly after Uncle Sigh breezed, Social Inclusion had spirited gallop in blinkers; first morning on main track
We were talking in the office about who will be favored, and agreed it would be Social Inclusion. No doubt, actually, considering the big 111 Beyer he got in his allowance win, the best number earned by a three-year old this year.  Samraat and Uncle Sigh aren't anywhere on the Beyer leaderboard I'm looking at, and it goes all the way down to 97.  That came as a surprise for those of us going by the TimeformUS figs these days, as we have the two NY-breds amongst the fastest horses in the group. Only Social Inclusion and California Chrome got better numbers (114 and 111, respectively) than the 110's they earned in the Withers.  The Gotham was rated at 108, for both.  This difference of opinion is only partially due to the fact that our figures take pace into account; the assessment of the track variants are just different.  So I've been thinking in totally different terms than you guys using the Beyers may be.  Based on those numbers, I imagine that Social Inclusion is going to be 1-2.  It's also true that In Trouble, who finished just behind the two New Yorkers in the Gotham, disappointed in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.  Still, I'm looking at this as being a more evenly-matched race than others may be.

 - Andy Belfiore of the NY Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association posted some photos of the Longshots bar on her Twitter account on Tuesday. Looks like they still have a good amount of work to do, but Ms. Belfiore reports that it will be open for Wood day.

 - Well, we were promised that we'd get a request for proposals from applicants for New York casinos in March. So, on March 31, we got at least a price list.
According to the casino application issued on Monday, a license in Orange or Dutchess County would cost a minimum of $70 million, and a license in the northern Catskills would go for a minimum of $35 million. But if no license is awarded in Orange or Dutchess, a license elsewhere in the Catskills would cost $50 million. Depending on the location, a license in western New York would cost from $20 million to $50 million. A license in the area between Saratoga and Albany would cost a minimum of $50 million. [NYT]
Details as to a required minimum investment will be disclosed after a conference for the bidders in April (probably April 30) and the applications, accompanied by a nonrefundable application fee of $1 million, are due by June 30 (of course). Perhaps by then, the Gaming Commission will have named the two other appointees to the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board.  Or, then again, since the three present members consist of 2/3rds Cuomo cronies and constitute a quorum, maybe we won't.  In any event, the longer this thing stretches out, the better case the existing racinos can make for being able to get revenue flowing by the beginning of next year, as comically forecast by the governor for March of next year.

 - Matt Hegarty reported on the latest racing fatality stats, and here's something that is becoming a regular occurrence:
  The 2013 fatality rate for artificial surfaces was 1.22 per 1,000 starts, according to the data, while the dirt-track rate was 2.11, 73 percent higher. The two rates have been sharply different in every year since 2009, and the difference became statistically significant three years ago. [DRF]
However, as Matt goes on to note, the trend these days is distinctly away from synthetics and back to dirt.  In addition to the already transformed Santa Anita, Del Mar plans to replace its Polytrack for next year's racing.  And there have been rumors buzzing that Keeneland, like Del Mar with its eye on the Breeders' Cup, may do so in the near future as well. [UPDATE: Well, what do you know, Keeneland announced they will make the switch by the fall meet.]  One thing that is definite - there are surely no plans in the works to change any tracks over from dirt, anywhere.

It's a funny little universe, this world of horse racing.  Here we are, under siege over issues of safety and animal cruelty.  Yet, the clear trend is away from something that is proving to have a statistically significant effect in the direction of saving equine lives.  The horsemen, breeders, and fans love the speed that the dirt surfaces provide.  Tracks want to host Breeders' Cups.  The criteria listed along with the latest HANA track rankings tell you where their priorities lie
Key factors including takeout rate, field size, wager variety, pool size, and signal distribution are analyzed track by track and weighted to produce a final composite score.
Nothing about safety records there.  Changing the culture of the game in this country is going to require commitment and sacrifice from all parties involved.  Despite all of the criticism and Times articles and PETA videos, the parties clearly have other priorities in mind.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

It's Wood Week!

This Saturday is the......I'm going to say this only this one time, here we go.......the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. 

"We are delighted to partner with on Aqueduct's premier race," said Chris Kay, President & Chief Executive Officer for NYRA.
And I'm sure that Chris Kay and NYRA will also be delighted when NYRA Rewards customers, perhaps attracted by their 'Wood Winback' promotion, give a try and maybe decide to switch.  Only in horse racing.

The race is shaping up to be an interesting one and, regarding the weather, let's just say that the forecast is not terrible and it's still early in the week.  (On the other hand, it's still early in the week..)

Haven't seen any official word from NYRA, but this is the weekend that the Longshots bar/simulcast center on the second floor is finally supposed to be open.  I was at the Big A a couple of weekends ago, and things were humming there.  The air conditioning from the new bar was blasting out into the clubhouse.  Workers were streaming in and out, and there were a lot of crates around, like this one.

I always figure that things are wrapping up when the Modesty Panels come out.  So I'm thinking and hoping that I'll see you there on Saturday.  Have to say that, for a place that's so dirty and dangerous, things have definitely improved at the Big A this year.  Get this Longshots open, do something about the seating in the common areas, and it might again be an accommodating enough place so that we'll be really pissed when they close the track down.

Social Inclusion has arrived by van.  He needs to finish first or second to nail down a Derby spot, and I wonder if his connections have any second thoughts about the decision to ship him up here instead of running in the Florida Derby.  The race did not come up particularly fast, at least on the TimeformUS speed figure scale, and the pace was moderate, well within his means.  On the other hand, Wildcat Red is probably not the kind to let most any horse get out on the lead by himself, so I'm sure the pace would have been far quicker has he been there.  (I wrote more about the Florida Derby here.)

In the Wood however, I don't know that either Samraat or Uncle Sigh, at least, have much incentive to risk getting involved in a suicidal pace duel with the speedy Florida invader. Especially the latter. Uncle Sigh only needs to finish third to insure getting in to the Derby, and I think he'll be ridden with that in mind.  Sure, he's a NY-bred so I'm sure his owners would love to see him win the Wood.  But not at the possible expense of blowing a Derby spot.

Samraat, who is clearly not a "need-to-lead type" despite what Joe Drape wrote in the Times on Monday (apparently Drape is too busy trying to tear down the sport to actually pay attention to what is going on in it), is already guaranteed a Derby spot.  Two of my biggest Derby scores were on horses who ran in, but did not win the Wood - Genuine Risk and Monarchos.  Both obviously used the race as a prep, and trainer Rick Violette has options here.  One of them could be to turn Samraat loose on Social Inclusion; let him get a little tired and gain some fitness.  But I'd think it's more likely that Samraat gets in some work and perhaps some situational education, as Mike Smith seemed to do with Intense Holiday at Fair Grounds on Saturday.  And/or, of course, Samraat - and Uncle Sigh as well - might just be better than Social Inclusion, perhaps we'll get a chance to find out.

Pros and Cons of Constitution

 - This post is also up, including videos, at the TimeformUS blog, along with the rest of my Today in Racing posts.

Constitution earned a TFUS speed figure of 101 for his win in the Florida Derby. That number, a prime cut below some of the top figures earned by other Kentucky Derby contenders, was downgraded from a raw final time figure of 105 due to the moderate pace. Additionally, the son of Tapit benefited from a perfect stalking trip tucked on the rail behind the two leaders, General a Rod and Wildcat Red. And he saved all ground when he was able to slip up the rail. And he also benefited from a slow pace, as well as a strong speed bias, when he won his prior effort. He certainly has not experienced anything close to the logistical issues that a 20 horse field can present, even with an ideal post draw.

Whats more, as you probably know, no horse who did not race at two has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. In addition, only two horses whose name starts with a 'C' has won the Derby since 1964. No horse with a single word name containing 12 letters has won it since Middleground in 1950, and nobody even remembers who the hell that horse was. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won only one Derby in its 139 runnings.

The point being: there are a lot of reasons to stand against Constitution when he goes postward in the Derby on May 3. Some of them are the usual nonsense, but some of them are quite real. However, there is one very legitimate reason to give him a big shot: this crop of 3yo's is, overall and for the most part, proving itself to be increasingly mediocre with each passing weekend, as horses at or near the top of many top ten lists continue to disappoint, and speed figures remain stagnant and/or moderate. Constitution is a horse with seemingly unlimited potential. He has won on the lead and has shown the ability to utilize his speed tactically to stay close and pass horses in the stretch. He has now shown that he can hook up with a rival and grit out a win over a horse who has proven to be a tough (if not particularly fast) competitor himself. He came home in 12.70 seconds for the final furlong; 36.87 for the last 3/8ths, which certainly qualify as "racehorse time."

Sure, he may - may - have to improve his TFUS speed figures to compete with horses such as Samraat (110) or California Chrome (111) who have run faster than he. But that raw final figure of 105 isn't too far off, and remember that our adjustments for pace are subjective. He won while facing stakes horses for the first time in only his third start, and did so in game and gutsy fashion. That's gotta be worth something that is not quantified in any speed figures.

Wildcat Red earned a figure of 100 in his grudging defeat. This is a horse who, with every increase in distance, I've been anticipating that his sprinter pedigree would catch up with him. He's proven me wrong in each case, and he has earned my admiration and respect. And I'll be making the same bet against him in the Derby, a race in which he figures to have plenty more company up front than just General a Rod (a 99 for his third).

Cairo Prince had little excuse for his flat 4th place finish. Sure the pace was slow and they came home quick enough to make his task difficult. But surely his connections expected more than a steady fade in the final sixteenth. Still, if he can sneak into the starting gate given his precarious position points standings, I'd consider taking a flyer should his odds fully reflect the disappointing performance.

In the Louisiana Derby, Vicar's In Trouble, another speedy type with a suspect pedigree, earned a 102 for his front-running win. It would be easy to dismiss the rest of them considering that he tired to a final furlong of 13.62 seconds, and nobody was able to make up appreciable ground on him. But I didn't at all hate the second place effort by Intense Holiday. He didn't need to win this race to qualify for the Derby, and it seemed as if Mike Smith took the Toddster-trained colt to school. He was closer to the pace than usual, took a lot of dirt in the face, raced between horses, was forced to check approaching the turn; but quickly recovered and made a nice move on the turn before flattening out. He was not abused late. Has a long way to go in the speed figure department - he earned a figure of 97, equal to his career high earned in his Risen Star win - but I believe he's a colt headed in the right direction who is better equipped for the Derby now than he was before the race. And that's what a prep is supposed to be for, right?

Palace Malice earned a career best 116 for crushing Normandy Invasion in the New Orleans Handicap. And man, I knew that the latter wasn't going to go off at his morning line odds of 7-2....but was pretty shocked when I saw that he was the even money favorite! As I mentioned in my preview of the race, he's one of those horses that the public just falls head over heels in love with, for whatever reason. And he still hasn't won around two turns.