Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's in the Genes

If only it were that easy.

With all the talented 3 year old's out there-Old Fashioned, Vineyard Haven, Midshipman, Friesan Fire, The Pamplemousse, it figures that the first one to get National Television exposure would be a horse who has yet to enter a Starting Gate- Nicanor, the full brother of Barbaro. CBS Evening News with Katie Couric had a feature story tonight on Nicanor, who is scheduled to make his debut this weekend at Gulfstream.

I can't say I am surprised that a horse who has shown nothing yet is getting all this attention. In the TV biz,It is all about catching the most eyeballs, and cute stories about a full brother of Barbaro will grab more viewers than a story reviewing the Beyers figures of The Pamplemousse. Just look at the 100 million or so movie goers who watched the film about that crazy lovable, dog Marley in Marley & Me. People just love animals, and the more sappy the story, the better.

So love it or hate, this is the way it is, and should the colt win this weekend, get ready for the onslaught. You can read the full text of the story on CBS here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bet the Bruce Springsteen Setlist

When I think of Gambling, I will always think of the NFL first. Nowadays I read the Daily Racing Form and Past Performances far more than NFL Lines and injury reports but that was not always the case.

A 5 year or so foray into running "the sheets" in the 1980's for one of my bookie friends helped put me through college. Bookies used runners, and that's where I came in. I needed to pay for my Jesuit College education, and being ethically challenged, I justified it in my mind as a great side job. Plus, being paid cash with no IRS and FICA BS was very appealing to me. Actually I was thinking just the other day, what a easy gig that was. Customers were easy to find, after all there was no Internet yet, at least not in the blue collar homes of the New York neighborhood where I was living at the time.

The bookie I worked for was always in a good mood and the best boss I ever had. He always made money, just off the VIG alone, and he had no problem paying me cash. And the customers loved betting the NFL. I never had one customer stop betting with me, every week they needed action, betting the line, over-unders, teasers, whatever-they just had to bet.

Fast forward 20 some odd years later and how different it is. No more "sheets", now people bet on the Internet and use a credit card account. Oh well, those were the days. Speaking of on-line betting sites , if you need some action besides the game itself and betting Derby Preps this weekend, you can now even bet on the Bruce Springsteen Halftime Set List. All I know is that it will be 12 minutes long and Bruce insists he will play live and not pre-record any parts.

A gander at various on line betting sites put 5-2 odds on a set list consisting of
“Glory Days,” “My Lucky Day,” “Badlands” and “Born To Run.”
The favorite, with 3-1 odds, seems to be
“Born In The USA,” “Thunder Road,” “Rosalita” and “My Lucky Day.”

Looking for value, I will go with a longer shot, at 8-1 on
"Born to Run", "Rosalita", "Working on a Dream", and "The Rising"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

99 Days till Derby Day

We are under the 100 day mark, with 99 days till the First Saturday in May, The Kentucky Derby. Things will heat up real fast on the Derby Trail real soon. Starting with the Grade II The Hutcheson Stakes on 1/30/09 and Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on 01/31/09, a graded stakes prep will go off virtually every weekend till Derby Day.

For a Road to the Roses Schedule of the stakes races check out the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance Home Page on the Tabs section where all races and potential entrants are listed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Legendary Football Team That Horse Racing Built-Part II

A outstanding post by Valerie at Foolish Pleasure on Steelers founder Art Rooney and his 2 day killing in 1936 at 2 New York Race Tracks has inspired me to write about my favorite football team and last year’s Super Bowl Champs the New York Giants.

For when you mention The Football Rooney Family, thoughts about the Football Mara Family are not far behind. Art Rooney was very close friends with Tim Mara, the original owner of the New York Giants, whose family still owns 50% of the Giants.

Just like Art Rooney, The Mara Family ownership of the New York Giants would not have existed if it were not for Tim Mara’s entry into the Horse Racing industry.

After dropping out of school when he was thirteen, Tim Mara became a runner for Thomas "Chicago" O'Brien, a major New York gambler. Mara delivered newspapers and worked in a book bindery by day; by night he made pickups and deliveries for O'Brien. Mara later opened up his own book bindery company, which fronted for his own bookmaking operation.

Soon, Mara worked his way up to his own enclosed space at Belmont Park and became a member of the local racing association. He handled as much as $30,000 in wagers in a single day, a large sum back in the 1920's.

Joe Carr, the NFL’s President, wanted a showcase franchise in New York and offered it to fight promoter Billy Gibson. Gibson declined but introduced Carr to his friend Tim Mara.

At the time Mara bought the Giants, he had never even seen a football game. But the promoters of the NFL knew that bookmakers were a type extremely “susceptible” to new forms of investment. They offered Mr. Mara the franchise and he accepted. The then 39 year old Horse racing Bookmaker Tim Mara paid $500 for the New York Giants in August 1925.

Mr. Mara also continued his bookmaking activities at the racetrack.

But his good friend Art Rooney would not bet with Mara. One Saturday, Mr. Rooney went to the old Empire City race track in Yonkers in 1936 and asked his good buddy Tim Mara to pick a winner for him. Mara gave him a 14-1 shot in the 1st race which Rooney reportedly bet $500 on and got back more than $7,000. His run of luck continued,and according to the NY Times obituary on Rooney, by day's end he had taken in more than $100,000. The next day, he went up to Saratoga, and on Monday, parlayed his $100,000 into more than $300,000. Exactly how much he made, as described in detail in Valerie’s Blog, depends on who you ask, but rest assured it was a lot (and this is depression era dollars we are talking about !).

Rooney once told sports columnist Red Smith,
"I had Tim Mara's figures but sometimes I'd see something the charts didn't see, like a change of jockeys or post position, and I'd use my own judgement.”

When Mr. Rooney came home that day in 1936, he told his wife, Kathleen, who was pregnant,
''We don't have to worry about money again.''

In Mara's honor, the Rooneys named their next child Tim. Chris Mara, a grandson of Timothy J. Mara, is married to one of Mr. Rooney's grandchildren, Kathleen.

Sources :

Mark Maske. War Without Death (Penguin Group, 2007) p. 15

Roberth H. Boyle. It's Just One Man's Family Sports Illustrated 09/25/72

Gerald Eskenazi. Art Rooney, 87, Founder of NFL’s Steelers, Dies. (NY Times 08/26/88)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Television Coverage

It has long been said that the sport of Thoroughbred racing missed the boat on Television. The Sport was once the king of print journalism in the 1930's -1950's, just take a gander at archives of papers such as the New York Times.

Then Television became commonplace in American Homes in the late 1950's and Racing never really jumped on board.

The National Football League did jump on board from the beginning and it remains the king of Televised Sports and lately it is beating even the biggest non-sports shows. This stat from Molly Willow of the Columbus Dispatch "Tube Talk" column:

"About 22 million people watched afternoon playoff games weekly on both CBS and Fox. That's more than the average audience for this season's No. 1, Dancing With the Stars (19.2 million), and No. 2, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (18.8 million) -- both of which are on at night, when viewers might not have anything better to do"

Her theory on the huge ratings:

"I don't think the football audience has necessarily increased because the game has become more interesting as it has evolved. The NFL, after all, claims that its "Greatest Game Ever Played" took place in 1958.

Instead, I suspect a combination of the hyper-
commercialization of the sport (see: FedEx), the heightened interest because of fantasy football and, in no small part, high definition"

And oh yeah, not mentioned in the column but another factor is that people bet on the NFL games. Those with a betting interest are also tuning in.

Horse racing will never achieve the TV ratings of the NFL, but it can certainly increase it's share of TV eyeballs but promoting Fantasy Horse Stables and increasing shows broadcast in High Definition (including your local OTB Channel).


Molly Willow "Football Sailing High above Series Fare" The Columbus Dispatch. Jan. 14 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Global Warming and Synthetic Surfaces

I took this photo today at a farm in Saratoga County, NY. I just love how relaxed this horse is in the cold snow. Animals are great because they only think in the here and now, never the past or future. One thing this horse is not thinking about is Global Warming.

To me Global Warming is like Synthetic Surfaces-Who really knows what the hell the real truth is? As of late with the economic collapse, it is now become the "hot topic" to talk about the economy at a social gathering instead of global warming. Prior to the economic collapse if I heard one more person spout off about global warming, I swear I was gonna stab myself in the eye with a pencil. Maybe global warming is real, and I will owe everyone an apology, but I think mankind can never alter Mother Nature all that much-she will kick our ass every time.

But Global Warming will win out you think? Sure it will, just like the killer bees in the 1970s that were coming from Texas to sting us to a painful slow death. That was 30 years ago and I'm still waiting for the little buggers to arrive in New York.

Today as I write this it is 2 degrees in Saratoga County, NY and it will be 10 below Zero overnight with daytime highs of 0. In the Midwest they are experiencing their coldest temperatures in 10 years and in New England Ski Resorts closed today as it was too cold and unsafe to allow skiers on the slopes. But I am supposed to continue to worry about global warming because somebody who cares about the planet said the Atlantic Ocean was 1 degree warmer in 2004 than it was in 1904?

Same problem I have with all this drama over Synthetic surfaces-why should I believe it is safer-because someone told me so-with little scientific data? Maybe it is safer. I think with the right engineering and scientific data a real good and safe synthetic surface can be in widespread use down the road, but for right now I am always suspect of when people are so adamant about telling me what is good for me (and our animals) and what is not.

I love reading journalist Steve Haskin. He cuts through the bullshit and writes in such a common sense manner.

In his recent 01/02/09 Bloodhorse column he posed this question:

"Did we perhaps act too quickly in rushing into synthetic surfaces without knowing as much about their complexities and idiosyncrasies as we should have?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Steroid Use

A reporter once asked Rickey Henderson if Ken Caminiti’s estimate that 50 percent of Major League Baseball players were taking steroids was accurate. His response was:

“Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49 percent right there.”

Rickey Henderson cruised into the Hall of Fame getting 94.8 percent of the writers votes. This was Henderson's first time on the ballot. He played 25 seasons for 9 different teams. He was exciting, colorful and one helluva player. I would argue, the greatest lead off hitter ever. His stats are unbelievable. He was also always in terrific shape and played the game clean.

Mark McGuire, long suspected steroid user, did not make the Hall on his 3rd year on the ballot and saw his percentage drop to 21.9 percent from 23.6 percent. This supports my belief that people hate cheaters (including those they strongly suspect of cheating) and will reduce that player or any sport that includes cheating to irrelevancy.

The fans tolerance of steroid use is low and support will drop of any player or sport suspected of steroid use. The NTRA in October announced the Safety and Integrity Alliance Pledge. The pledge includes uniform medication rules for each racing state and a ban of steroids from racing competition.

You can fool the public for a short while, but once they become convinced you are cheating, especially with drugs, they become intolerant of you and will just shut you out. Witness the public's disdain of McGuire. How about the sport of Boxing? Can you even name the current Heavyweight Champ? I thought so, the public simply does not take the sport seriously anymore. Horse Racing must be careful to ensure the general public it is a clean game or else risk the public shunning that will follow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

200 Days till Opening Day

It is now 200 days till opening day of the the 2009 Saratoga Meet. Seems so far away right now with Snow falling today at Aqueduct and piling up here in Saratoga County.

To keep your mind on the game as the snow falls, check out the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance Homepage where you can view and vote on what you feel was really the best photo of the year.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Sign of a Recession

Not in Saratoga. So says Long time Times Union (Albany, NY) news columnist Marv Cermak. On 12/27/08 Mr. Cermak toured downtown Saratoga to report that
"pricey restaurants were at or near capacity"
including high end Italian restaurant Chianti which he describes as

He also visited the Saratoga Racino where he found only about 100 of 1700 slot machines
"without a player"
Cermak reports that the buffett room, tavern and snack bar were all near capacity. He describes the attendance at the Saratoga racino to be by far the highest of his dozen or so prior visits to the racino.

Of course, this is all anecdotal evidence reported by Cermak. I would guess that these downtown Saratoga restaurants were doing better in 2007 than in 2008. I can't see how they would not. I had brunch at the usually crowded downtown restaurant Gaffney's the day after Cermak's Saratoga tour and found only one other couple in the entire place. As for the racino, Cermak is probably right about the large attendance. Like zombies in the night, people still flock to play the mindless slots.

Regarding the accuracy of columns written by Marv Cermak, may I suggest you read anything he writes with a copious measure of skepticism .

This past summer he wrote in his Times Union column about being at the Saratoga Race Course and witnessing Secretariat run in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in 1973. Only problem, Secretariat never ran in the Travers. Instead, after winning the Triple Crown, Secretariat ran in the Whitney Stakes, losing to the Allen Jerkens-trained Onion by a length. I wrote to Cermak, correcting his memory of the event, and asked for a correction to be printed. He never corrected the error and subsequent attempts to reach out to Cermak recieved no response. You can read his entire column on his recent Saratoga visit here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Journalist v. Blogger

I read with interest the 01/05/09 entry of Brooklyn Backstretch titled "Who's writing about racing". One quote from the piece:

"For now, though, mainstream media and non-traditional writers seem to be forging a fragile affiliation, one that can probably work for both parties in the near term, while racing, journalism, and new media figure out just exactly what the landscape can and should look like going forward"

Fragile at best. One only has to look in the Sports Blog Mainstream where "traditional" journalist Jason Whitlock has been in a back 'n forth battle with the very popular sports blog Deadspin. Check out the latest angry barb against Deadspin from Whitlock where he asks for sports blogs to police themselves, and of course, the snarky Deadspin wastes no time in responding.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Winter Classic Skates past Breeders Cup

In a case of "build it and they will come" the National Hockey League's regular season New Years Day game dubbed the "Winter Classic" between Chicago and Detroit on NBC drew a overnight rating of 2.9 according to Nielsen Media Research. This was up from last years 2.6 rating.

By Comparison the ABC broadcast portion of Saturday's 2008 Breeders Cup did a 1.3. The much ballyhooed Filly Friday or Ladies Day or whatever it was called did a 0.3 on ESPN2.

The NHL Winter Classic endeavor shows that if you put out a good product that people want and promote it properly, people will watch. Are you listening Breeders Cup?