Friday, September 08, 2006

Back to Belmont

The return of racing to Belmont starts on a flat note as Friday's planned General Douglas MacArthur stakes had to be shelved after drawing only three entries. Things pick up with three Grade 1's Saturday, including the Man o' War. Showing Up steps up to face older company in the Man o' War, including Bobby Frankel's Cacique and two other Gr. 1 winners. I love Showing Up's chances here despite the accomplished elders he faces. Showing Up has been brilliant so far, winning 5-of-6 races including the Gr.1 Secretariat. And that one loss, in the Derby, was better than it looks as Showing Up hung tough with Barbaro for nine of ten furlongs before giving way in only his fourth career start.

Fellow 3-year old Bernardini is drawing much of the sport's attention right now, but I think Showing Up's campaign becomes every bit as impressive with a win Saturday.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Franchise Bidders in Glass Houses...

Empire Racing steps up the propaganda campaign against NYRA with a press release citing 'disappointing' attendance figures at the 2006 Saratoga meet.

Total attendance at Saratoga Race Course has fallen each year since 2003, from a peak of 1,049,309 in 2003 to 908,569 in 2006 – a total decline of 13%, according to NYRA figures cited in the Empire Racing release.

NYRA's own spin notes that on-track average attendance was actually up very slightly in 2006: 25,939 fans per day, compared to 25,914 fans per day in 2005. Overall handle increased 5%, and Saratoga continues to top all other racetracks in attendance, handle and purses.

Empire, not surprisingly, fails to acknowledge the attendance problems of Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment, the two largest 'for-profit' racetrack operators in the U.S. and key supporters of Empire's bid for the NYRA franchise. At Churchill's signature spring meeting average daily attendance in 2006 slipped 11%, to 12,319.
And, as Bill Finley notes on, what racetrack has not seen on-track declines since 2003? He makes particular note of Magna's performance at Gulfstream Park.
"Perhaps no track in the nation has seen more severe declines in on-track attendance in recent years than Gulfstream Park, which is run by Magna Entertainment. That's the same Magna Entertainment that is partnering with Empire it its bid to take over New York racing. Funny how Empire has failed to put out a press release castigating Magna for its many failings."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Denman's on Notice

Denman's officially on notice (with apologies to Brad and John). Don't mess up the Breeders Cup Denman!
Jose Santos makes the list for his awful ride on Caiman in Friday's first at Saratoga. Santos gets fanned out five wide on the turn (in a six-horse field!) and then can't extend Caiman enough to get by Seaside Salute and apprentice Jeffrey Sanchez (who was making his first-ever ride at Saratoga).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Durkin Out as Breeders Cup Announcer

It looks like Tom Durkin's contract with NBC will prevent him from calling the Breeders Cup on ESPN this year. It will be the first Breeders Cup without Durkin. The day, of course, is about the racing but I don't think the BC will be quite the same. Durkin is one of the best announcers in all of sports and it's usually a joy to hear him call a day at the races.

Durkin does seem to get a bit bored for some of the lesser races (especially something along the lines of a late-November state-bred frightfest at my beloved Big A) but he is always on for big races. Durkin calls a race smartly without laying on the cliches or hyperbole. He's very good at calling or signalling moves before they become evident (especially if you're on track). And he is one of the few announcers that instinctively knows that more than a few race watchers also care about who finishes second and third in a race.

Some are suggesting that the ESPN job may go to Trevor Denman, the announcer at Santa Anita and Del Mar. I haven't heard Denman all that much but I haven't been that impressed. He seems to make mistakes. Any SoCal race followers or goers think differently or view this positively?

Blood-Horse: Durkin Out as TV Voice of Breeders' Cup

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

And Then There Were Four

It looks like only four bids were made for New York's racing franchise (down from the 16 entities who identified themselves as potential bidders just last month). Interested bidders now include current franchise holder NYRA; Empire Racing; Excelsior Racing; and Capital Play Limited of Australia, according to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing.  The only real news today is that none of the regional OTBs submitted a bid for the franchise.

All details will be withheld from the public until the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing makes recommendations to the governor and legislature next month.

The committee has said that it will release its recommendations to the governor and legislature - both of which must approve a winning bid - by Sept. 29. Under the committee's rules, bidders are prohibited from discussing their responses until the committee releases its recommendations, at which time the bids will become public, Williams said. (Daily Racing Form: registration required).

Albany has apparently looked toward the post-Soviet 'privatization' of Russian oil, gas and other natural resource assets as the model for the state's sale of the New York racing franchise. It's disturbing that that even the value that each bidder places on the franchise won't be released. A few oligarchs and their hired lobbyists will dote on the board members over the next month, and then we'll magically have a 'solution' presented out of Albany for what ails New York racing. And public property, a true gem, passes into private hands for a pittance

Then again, it could all be a charade with the process restarting again once New York's likely new governor Eliot Spitzer takes office in January. According to DRF's Matt Hegarty, officials in Spitzer's office indicated that the "current process would not identify the ultimate winner of the franchise."

Officials in Spitzer's office said privately last week that he intended to take an active role in the process next year if he were elected governor. The officials said they believed the current process would not identify the ultimate winner of the franchise.

Here's the bidder line up:
NYRA is the current franchise holder.
Empire Racing includes a group of New York 'horsemen' as well as Churchill Downs, Magna, Woodbine and others.
Excelsior is led by Steinbrenner son-in-law Steve Swindal.
Capital Play is an Australian bookmaker.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Taking a Stand Against Bernardini

Bernardini will lose the Travers tomorrow. The horse has faced some pretty dim competition, making his star appear brighter than it actually is.
I'll take a shot with Minister's Bid (trained by John Ward), who will hopefully go off near or above his 8/1 morning line. He's run huge in all his races so far. Minister's Bid chased a tough pace with Bernardini through the first seven furlongs of the Jim Dandy, only his third career race, before giving way (and finishing second, nine lengths behind Bernardini).
I think he turns the tables tomorrow. Minister's Bid to win and we'll box him in exactas with High Cotton and hope for a price. Good luck to all on Travers Day.

Friday, August 25, 2006

91-year-old (Harness) Driver is Real Menace links to a great story on Leo Burns, the 91-year-old harness racer and trainer who took a 2-year-old stakes at a fairgrounds track in Anna, Ill. earlier this week.

After having made a miscue at the start of her last race, Winsome Wyoming, driven by 91-year-old owner, trainer, and driver Leo Burns, got back on track at the Union County Fair in Anna, Ill. on Wednesday, August 23. The duo dominated their division, in 2:052, in the Egyptian Colt Stakes raced on the first of three days of harness racing action at the fair.

Burns planted Winsome Wyoming right on the front and his opponents could not reach the duo and mount challenge. In the end, Burns and the flashy chestnut filly by Wilson Wyoming finished 35 lengths ahead of the field and posted their seventh win in eight outings this year. The 2-year-old now has won in excess of $14,000. Tuf’s Gift and driver Buddy Simpson, who is closing in on 1,000 career wins, finished second, and Defiant Girl and driver Pat Melloy, Jr. finished third.

Burns will head to the Du Quoin State Fair the last week in August for his next start with Winsome Wyoming. Burns hails from Albion, Ill. and trains two horses.

US Trotting Association: Winsome Wyoming gets back on track at Anna, Ill. When is this story going to get the press coverage it deserves???... 91YO sulky driver and 2YO filly score by 35 lengths for seventh win in eight starts!

George Must Go!

The Steinbrenner-backed group bidding for the New York racing franchise is revving up their PR campaign in advance of next week's deadline for bids.

[Steinbrenner son-in-law] Steve Swindal said redevelopment of New York racetracks into entertainment facilities with video lottery terminals would have a trickle-down effect on the industry and the economy. He said the involvement of Richard Fields, [whose company developed Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel complexes in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla.], is an asset. "It's an overall development process that's quite impressive," he said.

I don't think this comment bodes well for the future of New York racing and its tracks should the Steinbrenner group get the franchise. Steinbrenner, a convicted pardoned felon, has become a tad less loathsome with age, but I suspect the family's experience with New York racing would more resemble what Steinbrenner managed to do with the family shipyard business (bankrupt it), rather than the good luck he's had with the Yankees (it would take a supreme idiot to lose money on that franchise).
On the bright side, however, I would be able to dust off and get some use out of my early-90s era "GEORGE MUST GO!" signs each time I head out for the sideshows (horse races) at the slots parlors formerly known as Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

Yankees Partner: Group Keen on New York Racing