Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pick 4 at Belmont and a Tour de France note

Happy Independence Day to all! A quick Tour note and a pick 4 at Belmont.

My favorite sporting event of the year,the Tour de'France, begins today with a time trial. I posted a lot about the race last year but don't intend to do quite as much this year. After all this space is supposed to be about horses. But I will say I expect Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour winner, to reaffirm himself as the tour champion. He was unable to race last year because his team, Astana, was suspended from competing in the Tour because team members had been caught (and banished)for doping the previous season. It was an unfortunate circumstance for Contador as he was not part of the team the year in question. But cycling has taken a hard stance against doping and, in my opinion, it's working. Horseracing can certainly learn a lot from cycling on the issue of how to handle drug violations. However, to prove his mettle Contador did win the other two grand tours of cycling last year; The Giro (Tour of Italy) and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain). The only questions in my mind are about the team. Bruyneel (former director of team Discovery during the Armstrong years) has assembled a sort of all-star squad both in GC contenders with Contador, Armstrong, and Leipheimer as well as with his domestiques Popovych, Horner, Kloden and Rubiera. Sometimes those type of teams just don't work. Who will be the leader? - Armstrong says they'll work it out on the road. And he has been very supportive of the cast while riding in his prep races. But to win the Tour a team needs to be on the same page and supporting the same we shall see. Contador is just a superior climber and the mountains is where the Tour is really won. I expect Lance to ride well but in the end realize that Alberto is the man to support. Of course he's proven many wrong before: seven times! And as with every grand tour a rider needs a little luck in avoiding injury during almost 2,200 miles of racing!
Another highlight this year should be watching Team Columbia's, Mark Cavendish compete for the green jersey (sprinter) this year. He has established himself as the most exciting and swiftest sprinter in the world.

The Pick four at Belmont.

The Dwyer (G2)
I like Kensei to win in this spot. To me he is the classiest horse in the race. I think the race will be very quick early, he rates well and Prado is patient. He has given a good measure of himself in every race and seems to still be improving. He should also improve with the added distance. His workout on 6/22 is about as fast as a Asmussen horse will go first work after a race so you know he's happy and healthy. A freshener on 6/29 has him ready.
I'm lukewarm on the ML favorite Warrior's Reward. Obviously he is maturing well and has run his two best races since coming off the layoff. He received a 113 Beyer for his NW1x Churchill score on 5/1 but I'm always a skeptic when it comes to those numbers on Oaks or Derby day. As a matter of fact I'm not a real big speed figure handicapper though obviously I consider them. I really don't think they were very tough spots either. Maybe he will emerge here as the real deal but I have too many questions to bet him at 9-5.
For some value I'm adding Convocation. He had an excuse in each of his first three races and still ran respectably in 3 of them. He finally put it all together last race on the under card on Belmont S. day. He also earned a career high 96 Beyer on a big day but he had earned a similar number before so it doesn't seem to be an anomaly. His pedigree is impeccable, Alan Garcia has the mount and the remainder of the field all have a lot of holes in the resume.

The Prioress (G1)
This is going to be a great race! A case can be made for every fillie. I'm going with Gabby's Golden Girl. She can obviously run a hole in the wind going a mile. I don't usually like a horse coming off several route's to a sprint but this case is a little different. she has carved out fast early fractions in each contest. The last was a one mile sprint for her after fractions that would win any true sprint. Baffert has had her east on dirt tracks for several months already and at Belmont since at least the end of may. She keeps shooting bullets in the morning and doesn't seem to have missed a beat so she must be very sound. I think today can be a career best for her. If she stays around the 7-2 ML she's a bargain.
For the purposes of a P4 ticket I'll add, On the Menu and Heart Ashley. Perhaps On the Menu has the better situation as he breaks from the outside.

Suburban H. (G2)
I like Asiatic Boy to win. He's obviously a very classy horse. I can forgive his runner-up finish (as if a G1 placing needs to be excused) in the S. Foster because it was his first race in the U.S. and he had a little trip trouble. He's back at Belmont where he's at home, he will have pace to close into and is not running into the most difficult of fields. I'm tempted to single him here for the P4 but will also add Rising Moon to my ticket.
Rising Moon is an ouchy horse, but by all signs he remains healthy and on schedule for a big performance. I like the 4f bullet on 7/1, just three days ago. He's flying a little under the radar for a Dutrow horse and he has shown he likes the track. Like Asiatic Boy he will track the pace and try to pick up the pieces in the lane. I think he may give the winner a run for his money here.
While I think It's a Bird will hit the board I just don't like him in this spot. I think he is a little over rated, has ran some very big races this year and likes to be a little too close to what I believe will be a fast early pace.
This is a very good spot for Finallymadeit but I just don't think he quite has the class of Asiatic Boy. Though he can control the race from his post he has a bad habit of folding late when seriously pressed going shorter so at 1-1/4 I don't see him hitting the board.

11th MSW $44K

It's nice to have a handful of horses for the final leg of a pick 4 but I don't think it's necessary here. The Clement entry looks extremely tough, perhaps worthy of a single but I'll pad the ticket with a value saver, Harlan's Band. He's got a race into him now and he didn't embarrass himself in that spot. McLaughlin is terrific with turf horses. In my estimation with the exceptions of the first time starter, Flight Song and Tawaared he has the most possible upside as far possible improvement. I'm throwing Flight Song out as I think it's just too tough of a field for a firster and it seems that Tawaared may have hit a plateau for the moment so The Clement entry and Harlan's Band are the picks in the final.

The Pick 4 Ticket $36
R11-1 entry, 3

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Don't Shoot the Messenger

Today in the TDN Arthur Hancock wrote an op-ed piece in which he states an opinion that is contrary to many of those in Kentucky, and the industry in general, while taking a stand against slots. On this issue I am am full agreement with him.

In my opinion the introduction of slots is the beginning of the end for racing. I understand that the initial boost of money received by racing in those jurisdictions where slots are introduced is welcome and seems an end to the penurious existence in which they exist. However, the mere fact that they are receiving an allowance from another industry should make it obvious that they are becoming expendable.

Racing requires hundreds of acres of land - often urban - and,for all intents and purposes, removes that land from the tax grid. Racino's/casino's, whatever you choose to call them, have the benefits of needing much less real estate to be productive, have a guaranteed return on ratio of money wagered and require much less in outlays for insurance, maintenance and salaries, to name just some of the monetary benefits. The lure of tax dollars for states and municipalities (and greedy politicians) is great. When presented with these scenario's what do you think will happen?

Many will scoff at these suppositions and liken me to Chicken Little proclaiming that the sky is falling. Well, in racing it is. And if the fans of racing don't organize we may be attending the funeral before our own time's are up. I can go on an name the tracks we have already lost over the years but instead I will just remind you that in the last year we have lost Bay Meadows, we are watching Hollywood Park only because of the real estate bubble burst and that all of Magna's properties are in jeopardy. Just in case yo don't know which tracks they are let me name a few of the most prominent: Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Laurel and Pimlico (both already reeling), Lone Star.

Here's a quote from today's Saratogian:

For the past several years, the city had derived as much as $3.8 million in state aid from the facility as compensation for hosting video lottery terminals at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.This year, the city was expecting to receive about half that amount, but the state decided to change the formula entirely, redistributing the money away from Saratoga Springs, while every other host community continues to receive the aid."The new formula discriminates against one community alone," Ivins said. He pointed out that the city had previously lobbied for the money, and that state representatives had voted against the budget, but it had passed anyway.

In NY,as everyone knows by now, NYRA has received a new 25 year lease to manage racing at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. In return NYRA agreed to cede undisputed ownership of the land on which those tracks are built, to the state. At that moment, again in my opinion, we should have heard the bell toll. It is my feeling that neither NYRA nor the State had claim to those properties. I believe the families of the Vanderbilt's and Belmont's own them, but that is beside the point. Why was that an issue to the state? Perhaps politicians can see into the future better than we are able. Perhaps they see a future without racing. A future with Casino's, simulcast outlets, housing developments and malls on all those acres?... all very taxable, all very profitable. And, of course, for those holding positions at NYRA it is another guaranteed 25 years of employment/benefits/retirement in exchange for something they have absolutely no personal stake in protecting. Do you think even one NYRA exec or employee was concerned for racing? It's not being paranoid if they're really after you!

It's a wonder that NYRA was allowed to "sell" off all that property around Aqueduct recently if they didn't own it, isn't it? If Aqueduct exists ten years from now I will be the most surprised person in NY.

Saratoga Springs has recently been informed that video table games will be up and running in the racino within a year. Can anyone read the writing on the wall?

I may not have the same perspective as Arthur Hancock as to how, or why, slots are bad for racing, but I know that in the long run, they are. If there is a future for racing it has to be racing. It is a great sport / business and can exist and be profitable on it's own... given the chance. Those vampires that are living off of it are selling it down the road because they see even more dollar signs with easier pickings elsewhere. I see CDI in this group. Remember that the takeout was created many, many years before there were ADW's and interstate simulcast sharing of that revenue. Originally the tracks/ horsemen divided the entire takeout. As the system is now set up horsemen/tracks receive just a fraction of the takeout from their "own" track. And they are told that what they receive is enough.

Racing is in real danger, both from the remora and the "apparent" solution of racino's. I wish I had a solution to offer but I don't. The best I can offer is to suggest that the majority of the takeout be legislated by law to be returned to racing to fund what it was originally intended: the sport. Make the distribution of takeouts uniform throughout the country so every locality has the same ability to profit or fail from the product they produce. In 1978 Congress created the Interstate Horseracing Act to protect horsemen and racetracks from being ripped off. That legislation needs to be revisited before it is too late for the sport.

Fri. Addendum: I apologize for an incomplete piece last evening. In the NY metro area we were having severe T-storms (again) and the power had already gone out twice so I just posted what I had lest I lose something in transmission. In any case what I really wanted to say after the quote from the Saratogian is that I am not a proponent of government being the care-taker and decision-maker for and about racing, for exactly the reason illustrated. Government is as greedy as any other player. And once they have what they want (more money) and no longer need to deal with you they can change the rules. And they do, as Saratoga Springs is now realizing. I am certain that the $3.8 million SS had received is a pittance compared to the money the race fans bring to the town and entire area in just six weeks; not to mention the vibrancy that makes the town a destination as well. When SS becomes just a day trip to the casino what will all the secondary and tertiary business' do to survive? The scope of racing's good far exceeds just the racetracks.