Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012 Withers Stakes Photos

The sky was a little dark by the time The Withers was going off, but I wanted to post a couple of pictures to thank and inspire my fellow commenters at Dan Illman's handicapping blog on

                                                   Race winner Alpha for "Longchamps"

                  Second place finisher, the lightly regarded (!)  Speightcity for "Meathead01"

                      The very attractive (and my second choice) King Kid for "Stephen Taylor"

Thanks not only to Dan Illman for running this whole circus, but to "Annie" "SRVegas" and everyone else who makes the Derby Trail even more fun for dozens of fans.

Not Your Father's Aqueduct?

I went to Aqueduct Racetrack yesterday to see some promising three-year olds in The Withers Stakes. I was also mildly curious about the new casino attached to the track. While casinos themselves hold no interest for me, their potential support for horse racing does. In particular, I like the idea that the new gaming legislation in Massachusetts might save the racing operations at Suffolk Downs. Readers can see photos of and read about my experiences at Suffolk in earlier blog posts here.
The continued recession and the efforts of some sharks to further take advantage of the poor were both evident in all the “We Buy Houses” signs along Linden Boulevard. No surprise there. What did surprise me was the very large sign at the entrance to Aqueduct. No mention at all of the racetrack. The only signage on Rockaway Boulevard is for the casino. Even as you drive down the entry road, there is no mention of the track. This is when I knew things would be different.
The parking lots were full, the flea market was gone, Resorts World (owned by Genting New York) have built a multi-level parking garage next to the casino building and are renovating the elevated walkway to the subway station. If you had never been there you might be very surprised there even is a racetrack. It is not at all obvious that you could enter the track without first going through the casino. There must be a way to do this since minors are not allowed in the casino and are found all over the track side, often seemingly unattended.
It is the end of the Lunar New Year and both this event and the Malaysian corporate parent of the casino are obvious. The thought of Malaysia reminds me how much I liked Anthony Burgess’ 1950’s trilogy The Long Day Wanes. As good a book about a foreign culture as the Cairo Trilogy of Naguib Mahfouz. Red is the dominant color, costumed staff are walking about handing out give-aways, and it is very hard to find an English language menu at the Oriental restaurant outlet in the casino food court.
The casino itself is big. So big that the players in the jazz combo atop the round central bar on the main floor look like dolls. The vast room has the usual flashing lights and ringing bells associated with what folks used to call slot machines but are now properly termed video lottery terminals or VLTs. This operation takes up two levels. The third level (today) is devoted to a third-tier trade show, with performers, racks of coats, and show tables urging interested persons to call and “Ask for Uncle Lim.”
Now there is a set of patios on the back side of each casino level that allows patrons to go out and actually watch the horses come down the home stretch. The patios also allow patrons to go outside and smoke.
Since I know from experience that there is a racetrack here somewhere, I work my way through the sounds and lights to the track proper. Some things remain constant, mostly the demographics. The casino patrons and the track patrons do not seem very different. All of them on both sides are in the 99%. Languages (other than English) are mostly Spanglish, Jamaican patois, and what I guess is Cantonese. The track side has some Dads minding or not minding their kids. The casino food court has several sets of disabled adults from group homes with their caregivers. These caregivers are paying much closer attention to their charges. Surprisingly little Giants gear on either side.
Whatever racetrack improvements may be in the works as a result of NYRA’s cut of the take are not yet in evidence. The physical plant looks a little worse and the amenities have been reduced. Several small coffee/snack bars are shut, the bar on the upper level grandstand is not in operation, and to make matters worse, some very good elevated grandstand seating has disappeared entirely – eaten up by the third level of the casino. I thought this was going to be the perfect place to try out my new binoculars. No such luck. In fact the current layout drastically reduces the number of seats outside available to patrons, especially those who want to watch the stretch run.
People tell me that the bigger, casino-fueled purses have helped NYRA by attracting more and better horses. This is a good thing, but four months after the opening the average Aqueduct patron has little to like. I must give NYRA high marks for not letting the casino overwhelm their website. NYRA’s Aqueduct website is all racing all the time. A far cry from the second class citizenship of racing on sites like Gulfstream or Philly Park.
How about The Withers you ask? Derby hopeful Alpha went off as the odds-on favorite and did not disappoint. Me, I had the wrong longshot underneath and went home $1.20 lighter than when I started.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The last Last Hurrah

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend the public wake for the late Kevin H. White, Mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984, and my former boss. It felt far less like a typical wake from Waterman’s than a co-production of Conventures (Dusty Rhodes) and Regan Communications, Inc.

At 2:45 the line of mourners stretched up Beacon Street from The Parkman House to just in front of the State House. When I arrived I guessed the event had not even started yet, because there was no movement in the line at all. “Late for his own funeral” was my first thought.  Not entirely unlikely.

Just after I got in line, we were joined by Tim Cahill, former state Treasurer and failed gubernatorial candidate. He attracted a lot of media and I was forced to listen to him bloviate over and over again.

In attendance were (among hundreds of others) Paul Guzzi, Bob Beale, Ron Druker and lots of folks I did not recognize. Let's just say none of the people who think they make up "The New Boston" were there. Of course I am old enough to remember at least one or two prior versions of “The New Boston” and those folks were well represented.  (It occurred to me later that Beale and Druker should have paid for the whole thing with all the money they  must have made during White’s administration)

The Mayor had, and has, a very charming and outgoing family - brother, sons/daughters, grandkids. Two of his grandsons were outside “working the line” like troupers, even though they looked too young to vote. More family members were outside the Parkman house entry shaking hands and listening thoughtfully to people’s stories. This, and the tight configuration of the restored townhouse, were the real reasons for the glacial pace of progress as the afternoon wore on through the bright and unseasonably warm day. 

When I finally got inside after 75 minutes on the sidewalk, and was about to talk with his daughter Caitlin, I (and others) were given the bum's rush by one of Dusty Rhodes' minions. "OK, step over here and sign the book, move into the next room, then get in line to go upstairs...."

Upstairs there were even more family and friends. The coffin was draped with the flag of the City and attended by strangely uniformed members of the "City of Boston EMS Honor Guard."

I said hello to former Deputy Mayor Micho Spring, who did not remember me, but I had no reason to expect she would. More charm, more family giving generously of their time and attention to all. Even to the least of us.

There really are special people and special families in this world. I feel lucky to have been tangentially associated with this one, even for a little while. All the waiting was worth it.

I got home and caught up on the Boston Globe, where I found the following Reflection for the Day.

"People are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them."
Marcus Aurelius

Kevin White did not suffer fools gladly, but he might have agreed that people were his proper occupation.