Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Naming a horse Kelleycanrun seems like putting too much pressure on the horse. Kelley can run, huh? So how come the looked like a pig the last two times they were out? Kelley can't run a lick.

Naming a horse is sometimes quite creative. The name can be a riff on the breeding of the horse: American Pharoah sired by Pioneer of the Nile. Or, the origin can be something known only to the original owner or breeder.  Names are registered by the Jockey Club, and can only be 18 letters, including spaces.

Naming a horse Kelleycanrun probably makes a reference to a human, but a name like that attached to a horse can give you the notion that the horse is headed for greatness because they "can run."

It's sort of like naming your kid Einstein, born of artificial insemination from the sperm of a Nobel Prize winning physicist, expecting them to be one who explores black holes in the universe. No pressure there.

There is no artificial insemination permitted in thoroughbred breeding. The chances for chicanery are too great to allow it. Interesting enough, there is a story in today's NYT Science section about donor sperm not being from who the parents think it is. Caveat emptor.

Kelleycanrun is owned by in partnership by Bobby G's good buddy, Richie P. Richie just recently owned Cassies Dreamer who made a decent showing in the Mother Goose and who through stakes placing in graded races had amassed over $200,000 in earnings, while still only having won their maiden race.

Unfortunately, but also luckily, after the Mother Goose, Cassies Dreamer developed a tremendous bout of colic and was nearly put down. Intestinal diseases in horses usually result in death. Cassies Dreamer was lucky, pulled through, is retired from racing, but has good value as a broodmare because of the graded stakes placings and her sire Flatterer, a now leading sire.

Richie, seemingly never without mutuel tickets in his pocket or horse in a barn that's his, quickly went in with John R. Murrell, the breeder of Kellycanrun, and someone who could be relied on to tell us about the horse's name.

Being a breeder means owning the mare or the sire that combined to create the foal. In this case, Mr. Murrell decided to keep the filly rather than send her out to the consignors for auction.

The stud fee for Kelleycanrun sire is a modest $25,000 for Cairo Prince. Cairo's sire is Pioneer of the Nile, who if you remember sired 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. You can see how the names have lineage.

Kelley's mare is Tempest Storm, from Malibu Moon, another productive sire of good horses. Thus, Kelleycanrun should be able to run, and run especially on grass, since Pioneer of the Nile horses are doing very well on the turf. A turf sire.

Before running in the 13th race on The Travers card (last race), a $90,000 Maiden Special Weight race on the turf at a mile and a sixteenth, Kelley ran a decent 4th in their first race on June 6th, a 6½ furlong race on the dirt at Belmont.

The usual small wager on my part was placed and the horse went off at 6-1. Their second race earned Kelley the derisive  opinion that Kelley can't run because they finished 5th in a mile and an eighth race on the dirt at Saratoga, beaten by 13¼ lengths. A poor showing at 4-1.

But in Kelley's corner is the trainer of Cassies Dreamer, a very successful trainer who is now a very fit-looking 80 and who campaigned Funny Cide to two-thirds of the Triple Crown years ago, Barclay Tagg.

I've been following Barclay for decades, and know him to be particularly good with horses on the turf. And what do we see Kelley's been up to? Why two turf works on the Saratoga turf training track. Saratoga boasts a turf training track as part of its Oklahoma training track. Downstate, there is no separate turf training track, only the main track inner and outer ovals.

Downstate the stewards do not generally allow turf works on the main turf courses unless you're a stakes horse, something Kelley clearly is not. Not yet, anyway.

So, looking a Kelleycanrun's pps for Saturday's race you come away with an initial feeling that Kelley can't run. What you have to see is the potential that Kelley can run, particularly on the turf, today's surface.

The little I know of horse anatomy is that turf specialists have a somewhat different shaped hoof that makes grass their preferred surface. Success at dirt and turf racing is not mutually exclusive, however. There are plenty of horse who can win on both surfaces. Secretariat's last race was a win on the turf at Woodbine. Catholic Boy most recently is a graded stakes winner on both surfaces.

So, aside from knowing the co-owner of Kelleycanrun, there are tea leaves out there that tell you something is up and turf might be where this horse does their best. You never really know. Trainers have an idea, and explore their ideas through entry in a variety of races: turf, dirt, long, short: with blinkers, no blinkers. Success can be serendipity.

On Saturday I wrote a brief analysis for Bobby G. about the turf possibilities for Kelley. I tell Bobby G. I'm playing my modest win/place wager. The horse is 20-1 morning line, and probably will only go up in the wagering.

I learned a long time ago to back a long shot win wager with a place wager. Win is where the bragging is, but place is where you keep your head above water.

There is a terrific scene in the movie 'The Pope of Greenwich Village' a Vincent Patrick story turned into a 1984 movie starring Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts as his 5th cousin, a somewhat dim-witted skull. Both characters are minor players circling the mob in Little Italy, who with some nerve and no brains, rob the safe of Ferrara's bakery on Grand Street in Little Italy right after the Easter weekend receipts are locked away in the safe on Sunday.

There really was a safe-cracking at the bakery in 1972, going after the Easter receipts. How it ended for the buglers is not known..

Matthew Arnold, who wrote the Times piece on the safe-cracking and the $55,000 haul, interviewed a merchant near Ferrara's on Grand Street, near Mulberry Street after the burglary.

"You mug someone around here and you don't know until it's too late who you're involved with," an Italian-American merchant said, hinting of  forces of detection above and beyond those of the regular police.

Well, the scene is in a car as Charlie—the smarter of the two cousins—and Paulie are leaving the track at Atlantic City where they bet a bundle "on the nose" of a horse that Paulie owned, or had an interest in.

On the nose means a win bet only. All or nothing. Paulie is disconsolate since his long shot finished second, of course missing the win payday, but also missing the nice price for place.

Charlie listens to Paulie's, "woulda, coulda, shoulda" moaning with a grin on his face, and then flashes a hefty stack of Benjamins. He split the bet to win and place, and benefited from the big place price. They hit it big, even though they ran second. Charlie is clearly smarter. To a point.

Since Kelley was in the 13th race and post time was around our dinner time, I knew I wouldn't be watching the race, which at that point was only going to be on a streaming service, which for me meant Xpressbets.

I made my bet early in the afternoon and forgot about it. It wasn't until sometime after dinner I logged in and saw my balance had increased somewhat, indicating a credit of some amount. Since I knew my balance after I finished betting, and now saw that it was bigger, I knew I hit something in the 13th, but how?

Kelleycanrun had finished 2nd and paid a whopping $26 to place. You don't get many $26 place prices, especially when the favorite comes in, which in this case was a Chad Brown-firster, Magic Star, ridden by Jose Ortiz, the meet's leading rider and paying $5, a 3-2 shot, a fairly low price.

I watched the race on Xpressbets replay, and saw that Kelley broke well, settled about three-wide mid-pack, swung out in the stretch and looked to be closing in on first at the sixteenth pole, take the lead briefly, only to see Magic Star burst out of the pack and shoot to the front and make first, looking easy doing it.

So who the hell is Magic Hat? Turns out she's was unraced, trained by Chad Brown, ridden by Jose Ortiz, and was a $500,000 auction purchase for Don Alberto Stable. The sire is Scat Daddy, a leading sire who sired Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner. Breeding counts.

And breeding is where if there is any reliable money to be made in horse racing, it's there. The Racing Form dispenses all kinds of information these days that was not publicly available 50 years ago. Compare a pp from another era and you will be astounded how much information they now pack into a horse's past performance record.

We learn the stud fee for a horse's sire. We learn what they were sold for at auction, and when and where that auction took place. Magic Star was bred by Betz D L Stable, CoCo Burns & Magers in Kentucky. This means they arranged for the mating of Scat Daddy with his $30,000 stud fee, with the mare Meadowlake mare Meadow Breeze.

The weanling was raised and sold at the Keeneland September auction in 2017 for $5000,000 by the consignors. The Don Angelo Stable were the buyers.

The word was out on Chad's firster. Big things were anticipated, and the horse delivered by romping home at 3-2. No doubt the horse will probably do well in their next outing, and could possibly do well enough to justify the auction price.

So, Kelley lost to a possible next-out good horse. That's how it goes in maiden races, winners can move on and be noted a little further down the road as being very good. Or not. It is, after all, horse racing, and there are no guarantees.

I thought about Richie being at Saratoga, watching what is a 37-1 horse, his horse, have the lead inside the 16th pole, only to see her lose to the favorite. Where's the nearest bridge?

I figured Richie probably didn't have the exacta, because he doesn't box exactas. Turns out Bobby G. had a decent Travers day, but put his Kelleycanrun bet all on the nose.

I heard from Richie yesterday and I told him to tell me he had the horse in winning bets. No, he didn't, but not for the reasons you might imagine.

Turns out, family obligations took Richie away from the track on Saturday. He has his box, but he always donates the Travers Day admission to it to charity for a raffle.

Aside from the family affair, he would ordinarily still be at the track. He always comes if his horse is running. But not this time. Perhaps it's a blessing. Watching a 37-1 shot come in under your colors could cause a coronary, which can only good if you recover from it.

The good news is that at least Kelleycanrun proved that Kelley can run, on the turf, and will probably go on to at least improve through the levels.

The exacta for Magic Star and Kelley paid $126.50 for $2, a very healthy sum, which if astutely played could easily get someone who might be under before the last race out from under.

What's next? Surely another Maiden Special Weight race. At Saratoga this meet a race condition, an eligibility, was written that favored maidens who were not from the high priced auction lot. The condition read: "For horses that sold or RNA (reserve not attained) for $45,000 or less in their most recent sale."

This is a novel condition, designated in the pps with an R for restricted, that denotes it is not an all-comers Maiden Special Weight race. Several have been run at Saratoga, and the usual MSW purse of $90-$95,000 is pegged at $75,000. It's a great condition which allows those of modest prices and expectancies to race amongst themselves, almost making a MSW race a somewhat lower class race without having to go into the claiming ranks. The fields were full for these races, but it is not known if they'll use the condition downstate.

It's too bad Kelleycanrun won't qualify for the condition since they weren't bought at an auction. So what's next? Will Kelley get run down again by an expensive Chad Brown/Ortiz cartel horse on the turf again? They can't win every turf race, can they?

You never know. It is horse racing.


Monday, August 26, 2019

The Ice Boxes Cometh

The average upstate horseplayers, the ones who live in or near Saratoga, come to the races with refrigerators on wheels.

This is not to make fun of them. It is a solid observation from my years of going to Saratoga as a downstater. The upstaters come with refrigerator-like coolers, ice, and usually a racing sheet of some kind. They do handicap, but boy, do they ever eat.

Saratoga is their jewel. There are no major league teams of any stripe in the area, so when the racing season opens the racegoers also double as picnickers, racing to secure the unreserved picnic tables, take possession of the ones they bought tickets for, or, eschewing the table top rush, stake out a patch of well-worn grass or dirt, unfold some chairs and spread out.

For certain, not all these people play the races, but they are always with someone who is playing the races. Some roles are to be the chuck-wagon, or tailgate deli to feed those bettors in the group. Win or lose, they always seem to be enjoying themselves. Of course, winning brings out the biggest smiles and highest high fives and strongest fist pumps.

The eating frenzy is not necessarily confined to the back picnic area. They are many eating venues at the track, and people are seated and ordering food, or buying food from vendors and strolling around with it. Quite a few people are seen strolling with no food and no racing forms or tip sheets of any kind. They are just there, soaking up the fair ground atmosphere, people watching, taking in a race on the television, or strolling out onto the apron and trying to get a spot to lean on at the rail.

When I returned from the annual pilgrimage to the finish line, I had an appointment with a physician at NYU in Manhattan, a young pain specialist who I see for my bad back. I told him of my recent outing upstate, and that my back didn't really hurt as much as not picking winners with more regularity on the latest trip.

He laughed and told me he loves to go there. He went to Siena College in Albany and spent many summers strolling around Saratoga. I gave him the "look," and told him I could see him being part of all the youth I saw that was holding a beer in one hand and a blonde in the other. After all, he's good-looking guy with two hands.

Upstate, the trackside rail and paddock rail is chock-a-block with railbirds. Downstate, real birds far out number the patrons on any day but The Belmont Stakes, or a few selected giveaway days. You can hear the seagulls squawk.

On our last day at the races, Saturday, the Alabama, a tremendous, but typical thunderstorm rolled out of the mountains just as the  9th race was getting ready to be run and saturated the place. Anyone not under cover ran for cover. The rain was coming down sideways, and the outer rim of The Fourstardave (the old carousel area) was getting soaked fast. Being there, we quickly sought refuge at a more interior table. The place filled up with picnickers. The bar area filled up, and business there really picked up.

Johnny M. and I sat at a big round table that was probably meant for eight. But when they get late into the card the staff at the Fourstardave drops the wrist band entry requirement and all-comers can sit down. It's a great venue that you can order food and drink from—or not—and watch and bet on the races.

We've been buying  reserved seats there for several days of our stay during the meet. We got tired of being boxed in in the seats in the stands, which are small, and the sometime aisle jumping we had to do to get past the patrons that planted semi-coolers in the aisle. Although coolers are not supposed to be allowed in the stands, patrons still manage to carry something to their seats that keeps their food and drink cold. They never stop eating in that place.

One pair of displaced picnickers was a husband and wife team, perhaps in their early 60s, who also sat at the table. The wife wiped it down, because it too was wet. I helped her. She looked like a retired school teacher. I couldn't peg an occupation on the husband who sat there wearing an Aussie-style hat. but they sat somewhat apart from each other, each with a racing sheet/form and were engaged in picking the winner of the next race, which at that point was the 10th race, the Alabama.

What I couldn't see was that they had also wheeled in between them (thus the separation) some kind of giant cooler. Something I would call an ice box on wheels.

At this point it's not lunch time, it's after 5 P.M. and perhaps it was their dinner time. Whatever it was, the husband pulled out a hefty supply of cold cuts and made himself a Dagwood sandwich, all while watching the television and looking at the odds.

The wife pulled out a Tupperware container of potato salad and plowed into that. Neither of them were heavy in any respect, but boy were they hungry. It was going to be hard to imagine they would go home and still eat supper. But, I certainly didn't ask.

Whatever, when Jose Ortiz won the Alabama and seemed to stand up early on Dunbar Road and start a fist pumping celebration, I remarked he was going to get fined for a celebration before crossing the finish line. Years ago, Jean Cruguet was fined for standing up in the irons before crossing the finish line in the Belmont Stakes in 1977 and completing the Triple Crown.

I heard Gary Stevens commented on Jose's celebration, which was as much precipitated by his victory as it was by his third straight Alabama win. Jose held up three fingers. Gary Stevens it turns out has won 9 Santa Anita Derbies, with none of the victories celebrated by a bit of showboating.

The replay of Jose approaching the finish line does show the standing up in the irons to occur after the finish line, but the fist pumping holding the stick was in motion before crossing the finish. Apparently, based on the website for NYRA, no stewards' ruling was made for the day's races to reprimand Jose, the leading rider at the meet.

Also, to me, what I don't like to see is the fist pumps jockeys sometimes give each other after they cross the finish line and run out with their mounts. This is generally between the top finishers, and to some might give the appearance of collusion between jockeys to rig the order of finish. It has no place in racing. Fist pump in the jocks room, out of sight of someone who might have lost a close race with significant jack on the outcome (That's not me.)

A crowd at the races is a wonderful thing, and something you won't see downstate on any day other than a few special days. More people attend minor-league baseball games than races at Aqueduct or Belmont. From the stands,—the third floor at Belmont, no less—you can hear the crack of the crop as the horses approach the finish. There is no sound of a crowd to drown out the sound.

And patrons aren't the only thing missing from the races. Horses are as well. Joe Drape, in his NYT story before the Travers, lays out the massive decrease in horses bred. The Lake George Stakes at Saratoga, with a $150,000 purse was recently run with three entrants. All trained by Chad Brown.

The race was originally carded for six horses, but Wayne Catalano didn't bring his horse in, and trainers scratched two horses. Weather was not a factor. The race was carded for the turf and run on the turf.

Despite all the entrants being trained by Chad Brown, the horses ran as three betting interests due to three different ownership interests. Years ago, common ownership and common trainer, would require the horses to be coupled in the wagering. The rule went back and forth over the years, and now because of the lack of sufficient horses, common trainer is not strong enough to require an entry. Common ownership determines if an entry is required. Even if there are different trainers for the same owner, the horses run as an entry.

Years ago the three entrants in the Lake George with a common trainer would have been forced to run as a single betting interest. 1, 1A and 1B. I distinctly remember a Cragwood Stable entry that went to four horses and a 1X designation. Imagine a race with one betting interest race! Talk about singling.

Five horse fields are almost common. To NYRA's credit, there was only one 5 horse field carded for the four days I was there.  Despite being given more calendar days to race, NYRA kept the number of races in the meet to its now usual 40. This meant going dark on Monday as well as Tuesday; not a popular move. But it proved to be the right one.

The handle is way up from other years, and with a robust handle, you don't necessarily need a record number of patrons. The upstate attendance is driven by a race-going tradition throughout the area, and its social aspects.

NYRA has wisely re-jiggered its Pick-6 format and turned it into a jackpot format that pulls money away from each day's handle to build a jackpot to be paid on mandatory payout days, and when there is a single winning ticket. Other tracks have something similar.

They have also lowered the takeout on the wager, as well as lowered the minimum bet to 20¢ from the traditional $2 for the old Pick-6. A base 20¢ bet allows those interested in placing Pick-6 wagers to lob in more permutations for their attempt at a payout. It's even gotten me interested in putting a ticket together.

There is no need to worry about the future of racing when mid-July rolls around and the calendar tells the area residents that it's showtime upstate.

The only worry is will they have enough to eat?


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Two Roads Diverged in the Woods

When Robert Frost wrote 'Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening' little did he know he was writing a metaphor for betting on the races. This past week, stopping by the Saratoga clubhouse box of  Richie P, the longtime friend of Bobby G. (one of the 'Assembled'), who is the one who owns a horse or two and every now and then eventually wins with a big payout, a discussion ensued about betting a horse trained by Leo O'Brien and the way to bet exactas. Never did two roads diverge more.

The 4th race of Wednesday August 14th was a state bred first level allowance race on the turf at a mike and sixteenth. First level allowance state bred races are pretty competitive, with horses that have been racing for several years. There is a solid base of past performance information available.

Leo O'Brien, a trainer, is now surely an octogenarian who doesn't put many horses out on the track. He is famous for training Fourstardave, the Sultan of Saratoga and for having once been a steeplechase rider himself. I remember in my early days at the races seeing his name as a steeplechase rider. Believe it or not, steeplechase races were run at Aqueduct for a while.

My favorite steeplechase race is one I never saw but read about. Anyone who knows anything about these races knows that there are  jockeys who specialize in steeplechase riding. Your Angel Corderos and Jerry Baileys did not ride these mounts. The weights carried reflect these larger riders, most of whom are riding at 140 pounds and up.

When a horse carries weight there are lead inserts placed in the saddle to make up the difference between what the rider weighs, and what the racing secretary has assigned in the race's conditions.

Thus, if the steeplechase rider is naturally weighing in at (with tack) at say 142 pounds, and the assigned weight is 155 pounds, then 13 pounds of lead are inserted  into pockets in the saddle.

Nowadays a flat race can be declared official before the jockeys weigh out. I'm not sure if steeplechase racing requires a weigh-out before becoming official, but I can imagine it still should be.

One steeplechase race at Aqueduct resulted in weights falling out of the saddle. Thus, when the rider finished winning the race they weren't carrying their assigned weight. Oh-oh. Bad news on the scale. Disqualified.

Leo these days does not win many races. They are few and far between. You can easily see how few and far between these are by immediately spotting the trainer stats in the Daily Racing Form. The stats are two-fold: one set for the current meet; one set for the year. Leo usually doesn't win anywhere near five races a year these days.

When handicapping, Leo's entrant is automatically not considered by most players. His numbers are weak. Richie writes a big X when he sees a Leo O'Brien-trained horse. I usually find myself not considering the entrant, but only after "doing my numbers" and assigning my proprietary analysis figure. (Don't get too excited. It's only slightly good.)

If you take handicapping seriously, you realize that each race is like a different hole in golf. The conditions vary greatly on who is entered. The distances are all over the place; the surface is dirt or turf; the turf course can by inner or outer (always something to consider).

So when the chances for Whiskey Sour were considered, Leo's entrant, it was surprising to see that the analysis gave the horse a competitive number, despite Leo's poor stats, which at the time were showing 6 starts at the meet, with one third; 36 starts on the year, with 2 firsts, for a 6% win ratio. Hardly numbers to make you confident that this 7-year gelding with now 45 starts and one win, is going to do anything.

But you go on recent form, and Whiskey Sour's showed promise. The last race was a 3rd place finish in a similar race, three-quarter lengths behind the winner. The race was within six weeks of today's race, at Saratoga, and represent Leo's third place stat.

Another sign of life was the jockey. Lately. a seven pound bug boy was riding, Benjamin Hernandez. The bug boy status indicates an apprentice, first-year jockey, who receives weight concessions because they are just starting out.

But Wednesday's 4th race was made even more interesting because Leo's horse looked live. There was a jockey change from the apprentice Hernandez to John Velazquez, a thoroughly established award-inning jockey. John Velazquez is also Leo's son-in-law, John having married Leo's daughter Leona quite a while ago.

My note to self was to watch the board. In every race in the pps save the oldest race, the odds were double digits, boxcar odds indicating a real long shot. The odds were as high as 15-1 to 150-1. The oldest listed race, a state bred maiden turf outing at today's distance, on September  15, 2017, saw Jose Ortiz riding at favoritism of a generous 3-1 and winning. And Jose Ortiz is of course right now a national leading jockey. Jockeys count in handicapping.

Jockeys are placed on their mounts by their agents. The agents extract what seems like an unfair 25% of a jockey's purse cut. The agent's job is to talk up the trainers who they think have a live horse in a certain race. The agent's instincts count. The better a jockey does, the more money an agent makes. The race track is full of ways someone takes a cut.

Some trainers will always try and use their favorite jockey, their-go-to guy. But the dealings are with the agent, who arranges the ride. Jockeys are basically short-term, self-employed contractors for trainers.

My note to myself after posting my number for Whiskey Sour was tho watch the board. Will there be action on his chances?

There was. Whiskey Sour was nearly a constant 5-1. I didn't think they were going to win, but I took a win bet flyer on her anyway.

The race was run and the favorite, Gosilently won. Favorites have been doing extremely well at Saratoga this meet. That's only my own feeling from the results. It used to be you could find a percentage of winning favorite number for a meet in the program. No more, for some reason. Historically, the percentage of winning favorites usually sits at 33%.  For this meet, it must be higher so far.

The race is run and the favorite wins at 1.45-1.00, paying $4.90 to win.. Whiskey Sour doesn't do badly at all, being guided to a 2nd place finish by the son-in-law, finishing a neck in front of the 3rd place finisher, and only three-quarters of a length behind the winner. Whiskey Sour's final odds drifted up to $8.60-1, combining with the favorite to pay a very nice $2 exacta of $58. Any exacta that high paired with a favorite is a good exacta. I didn't have it.

After the 5th race I sought out Richie at his box. You need to be in the clubhouse to get to the boxes, and Wednesday was going to be our only day in the clubhouse, opting for the grandstand's Fourstardave sports bar setting for the next three days.

I hit the winner of the 5th race, My Bronx Tail that paid $6.70 to win, as the second choice. That's how it's been at the meet. Favorites, and low second choices—almost favorites—winning.

So, finding Richie in his box he was satisfied that he too, had hit with My Bronx Tail. He told me if I had stopped by earlier he could have told me that the information he was getting from his sources was that had a throat procure done that would improve their breathing. Richie told me the name of the procedure, but I forgot it. It sounded like Lulu something, but it didn't matter. The point was there was reliable information that it was expected the horse could easily improve on their second place second place finish, getting beaten by a next-out winner.

My Bronx Tail was in a maiden special weight race and had the look of a career maiden. At 7 starts, they had more than anyone else in the field, but their recent form looked promising against a bunch of first-time starters, or others with few races.

A horse that looks like the winner from the past performances and is going off at a close second choice doesn't seem like the tip is very valuable. But to the point, there can be information regarding recovery from injuries or throat procedures that can be a clear indication they are ready to bust out and win.

One of Rickie's horses years go, Mighty Tuff was gelded after their last start. At the time, being gelded was not public information. The fact that they were a gelding was noted in the program and Form,  but unless you knew that prior to the day's race you didn't know they were not a gelding prior to today's race. Their just being gelded was not widely shared information.

The day Mighty Tuff ran, on paper, he looked like something you'd throw out. But he hadn't had many races, was in with no world beaters, and because of knowing Richie it was known that his horse had just been gelded. Gelding is done for several reasons, making a tempermental horse easier to handle and train. And with better response to training, their chances improve. And the day Mighty Tuff did run as a first time gelding he did very well, won at 33-1 and made quite a day for us who backed him.

First time gelding in the last few years has been added to the notation in the program and the Racing Form. It is an angle. Knowledge of throat procedures is not publicly known, however.

It was shared with Richie that I had My Bronx Tail anyway, without any knowledge of their throat procedure.

I mentioned to Richie that I missed the prior race betting Leo O' Brien's horse. You might have thought I had just said 'Niagara Falls' in an Abbot and Costello routine. "How could you play a 7 year-old gelding with 45 starts and one win trained by Leo O'Brien who's got his son-in-law on his back, probably because he feels sorry for Leo. Next time you want to bet an O'Brien horse come to me, I'll take your money at better odds than what's on the board." The anti-O'Brien sentiment was palpable.

I defended myself by saying I only took a flyer on the horse, he wasn't my main bet, and it turns out he was live on the board and live on the turf and combined with the winner for a nice exacta. No matter the result, betting an O'Brien horse was heresy. It was a Bill Gallo cartoon: 'Two guys Talking Sports.'

The conversation drifted onto My Bronx Tail and how Richie had played the horse in his prior race with an exacta with La Chancia. Richie was complaining that Velazquez fell asleep in the stretch and gave up a 2½ length lead to La Chancia and got beat by ½ length. He was still mad at Velazquez. Horseplayers hold grudges longer than countries.

Over time, the notations in the trouble line, the short comments all the way to the right of the past performance line have changed. I have to think that obviously, whoever was doing this when I started out is probably by now no longer with us, or at least not doing it for the Racing Form.

Trouble lines are just that. They make note of a bump, a stumble, a bad start. But they also used to give you a sense of how the horse performed without going to the chart and reading the full description of the race.

You used to see comments like Driving, Tired, No factor, Ridden Out, which pretty much gave you a mental picture of how the horse did and finished up. There used to be a comment that was Gamely,which indicated a horse getting past in the stretch by a superior effort from the winner; thus the horse getting a Gamely notation was given credit for trying their best, but was no match for the winner that sailed past them. Years ago, My Bronx Tail's second place effort would not be described as "Inside, ask near 1/8" but would be "Gamely."

The one new indication the Form has been able to me, miraculously computer program, is the italicizing of the name of a horse indicated in the top three finishers section of the pp line, just to the left of the trouble line, that denotes that the finisher won their next time out. This indicates that there is a possibility that the horse you're interested might have been in a field of some very good company, because there were those in that prior race's field that went on to do even better. It is a helpful piece of information.

My Bronx Tail's pp line showed being beaten by La Chancia, and that through the italization of La Chancia's name, was beaten by horse that went on to win their next race, thus probably losing to someone that's was better than them in that race. Don't feel bad about losing, sort of thing.

As Richie pointed to the results of My Bronx Tail's last race we was telling me played the exacta. I said, "Well you had the exacta right, they finished one-two. You boxed it. right?"

I've heard the response before from other horseplayers, "No, I don't box." (Play the two horses to finish in either order, in effect making two bets.) Now it was my turn to express astonishment. "How can you not box?"

Richie showed me some of the day's tickets, showing a horse keyed on top, with others beneath. The complete opposite of a box. The keyed horse has to win for there to be any chance of cashing the ticket; a straight bet, or picking an exacta cold, despite throwing others under the keyed horse.

"How can you not play a box?" I again asked. "I play to win money." "Well okay, a boxed exacta is a bet against yourself, but keying on top with multiples underneath is also playing against yourself. The whole ticket cannot possibly win." Two guys talking sports.

There are always more than two roads that diverge in the woods. And horseplayrs eventually take all of them.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It Was Dark and Stormy

If a horseplayer doesn't have a story to tell you, then they're no longer breathing.You'll have to rely on the eulogy. It may not have yet been a dark and stormy night, but it certainly became a dark and stormy afternoon —fast—about the time for the 9th race on Saturday at Saratoga.

Anyone who knows anything about the weather in August around Saratoga, knows there can be violent thunderstorms that seem to fly out of the Alleghany mountains that quickly render a fast track a sloppy, sealed track, or turn a turf course less than firm.

And that's exactly what happened as the 9th race was set to go off. The sky got dark. The rain came. But the race was run at the planned mile and sixteenth on what was initially described as a "good" turf course. A prior night's rain had already moved the prior day's "firm" turf conditions to "good" as the races began the day.

The six horse field had already lost an entrant to an early scratch when the gates popped open. There were basically two horses vying for favoritism: the Graham Motion-trained Varenka and the Chad Brown-trained Regal Glory.  The race was the 36th running of the Grade II Lake Placid Stakes.

Turf races generally end with bang-up finishes. Tight clusters of horses headed toward the wire, with the outcome usually not decided until the final jumps. And this was no exception.

At the end, only 1½ lengths separated the top 5 finishers. And the top two, Varenka and Regal Glory, looked locked in place at the wire, due to Varenka's stretch run surge.  Regal Glory and Varenka both got past Blowout, who was leading in the stretch? But who finished in front? Who, shot past who?

On the slo-mo replay it seemed it depended on who you bet as to who you felt won. Realistically, as the slo-mo was replayed, despite having bet on Regal Glory, it was felt by this long-time observer that Varenka did have a flared nostril ahead of Regal Glory. But Varenka's number is not coming up. Regal Glory's umber is not coming up. And the clock is ticking way beyond the time you wait for a photo finish to be decided. Waaaaaay beyond. Is this the Kentucky Derby all over again, albeit for a different reason?

Another frame-by-frame replay of the finish leaves you still guessing. The image is as dark as the sky is. How can they tell? Where is the light that usually goes on when it's dark out and the horses cross the finish line? The image looks vastly underexposed as a result, as if Fotomat screwed up your vacation photos and you can't tell Uncle Henry from Aunt Bessie as they stand by the Grand Canyon.

Turns out Saratoga has no light! Not for the main track finish, not for either turf course finish. I go back so far that I can remember my early days when I also tried to pick winners at Yonkers Raceway, a harness track in Westchester County, just north of New York City.

Harness racing at Yonkers, then as now, was held at night, and my friend and I once did a double, daytime races at Aqueduct and a nightly card at Yonkers. We only did that once, and I was never so tired in my life.

Regardless, I did go to Yonkers by myself  in the late '60s, and when there was a photo finish they posted the image in a locked glass case for the public to see. A still wet looking 8x10 glossy print was carried down from offices above, and was physically placed in the case by an official, showing the public how they came to declare the winner.

As advanced as things have become, a freeze frame image is still needed to determine not just close finishes, but all placings. In the age of Superfectas, the top four finishers are needed to be determined to pay out the bet. Accuracy counts.

Time ticks away, and it become 10 minutes before the officials determine who won the race. Both horses did! A dead heat is declared. And when a dead heat is declared, there are multiple payouts for win, exactas, etc. I cash my win bet on Regal Glory, somewhat diminished because the win pool payout is shared with Varenka. Half a loaf is better than no loaf.

The above photo is posted on the monitors to show the public a dead heat occurred. How did they tell? It's dark as a cave.

Well, once home on Sunday and watching the FS2 broadcast, I learned that they determined the finish line photo was inconclusive, they couldn't really tell who won, so the in the spirit of not wanting to just settle it with a coin flip, they declared both finishes to have finished first—thus a dead heat.

Image that! An inconclusive finish to a horse race in the 21st Century! It's one half of the Mueller report, and thankfully it didn't take as long to conclude that they couldn't conclude.

The dead heat decision was gratefully received by the public since Varenka and Regal Glory were co-betting favorites. Afterwards, it was reported that Graham Motion, the trainer of Varenka, teased Chad Brown, the trainer of Regal Glory, that Chad got lucky. Just as I thought on the freeze frame replays that it appeared that Varenka was ahead by the membrane of her nostril.

It was a dark and storm afternoon, and two horses each won the same race. And I had one of them.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Rosie Ruiz

Memory is a tricky thing. Before reading today's obituary, if you were to ask me which marathon Rosie Ruiz was the "winner" of, only to be disqualified later for having jumped into the race a mile from the finish, I would have replied. "New York." Nope. It was Boston, 1980. I knew the year, however.

It turns out she was mistakenly awarded a finishing time of 2:56:33 for New York's 1979 marathon when she dropped out after 10 miles with an ankle injury, went to the finish line to watch the race, and was inadvertently credited with a finishing time by a race volunteer. It was then that she perhaps got the idea that you could earn a finishing time without actually running all the miles.

Ms. Ruiz's New York time likely enabled her to qualify for an entry spot in the Boston Marathon, since then, as now, you need to meet qualifying standards to legitimately get a number and start the race.

It didn't take long for suspicious to be raised about her Boston finish. Bill Rodgers, the 1980 male winner, said she didn't look "tired enough" to have completed the race.

Rosie insisted she was legit, but everyone else had her down as a fraud—a pariah. Offers were made to have her enter another race and prove she was capable of the times she had been credited with. She wouldn't.

There were stories she had a "plate in her head," thereby explaining her "odd" behavior. Today's NYT obituary doesn't mention anything having to do with a metal plate in her head.

Fame is fleeting, even infamous fame. It didn't take long for Rosie to recede from the spotlight. Turns out she got her herself into quite a bit of trouble embezzling money from a real estate firm, and selling cocaine to an undercover agent. For whatever reasons, the punishments for these offenses were not lengthy prison sentences.

In the photo above, Rosie is being helped by the Boston police after it was thought she had won the race. Prescient. She later was escorted by the police when she was being arrested.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I have read A LOT of obituaries. But I have never read of someone who is described as being so bland that, "if there is single colorful quotation to his name, it has not been found."

Li Peng is described as being without wit. But then again, the clue might have been found in the NYT obituary's headline announcing his death: "Li Peng, Known as the 'Butcher of Beijing' for Tiananmen Crackdown, Dies at 90."

The noun "butcher" is usually reserved for those whose vocation might be chopping pork chops for sale, or Nazi concentration camp commandants. Not that the word is poorly applied in Li Peng's case.

Li Peng is pretty much credited with ordering the bloody crackdown against the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 as China's youth was expressing their displeasure with the government. No exact number of fatalities is ever given, but generally "hundreds, perhaps thousands" were killed by Chinese troops unleashed on the crowds to eventually restore order.

Li Peng was a trained engineer who was a professional Comrade who managed hydroelectric plants and who rose in the Party's ranks to eventually serve as premier, and later as "chief of the National People's Congress, the country's party-dominated, pro rubber-stamp Parliament."

The one black and white photo of Li Peng in the print edition of the NYT, shows him standing in front of three microphones in a 1997 ceremony for the Three Georges Dam, a massive hydroelectric project that displaced more than a million people before it was finished. He looks completely expressionless, a cardboard figure with four similar cardboard figures standing behind him. My bet is his lips never moved when he was talking, and he only moved when someone came by and picked him up and put him someplace else. No photo-op shirtless pose on horseback, like the Russian nemesis Putin.

But there is an alternate universe when you take in the digital version of the NYT Li Peng obituary. Scrolling through the text you are greeted with a color, 1995 photo of him taken in Mexico, waving a Stetson, smiling and looking like an Asian Harry Truman campaigning from the back of a train pulling through a whistle stop.

Li Peng is survived by a wife and three children. He must have said something that made someone laugh. Or at least smile.