Tony Palmisano

For over 25years, Tony Palmisano has written, covered and commented on the sport of thoroughbred racing for both local and national publications. During that time, he has covered major races; including the Triple Crown, Breeders Cup and reported from every major racing circuit; including Saratoga, Belmont, Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Del Mar to name a few.

Since 1988 Tony has been a member of the National Turf Writers Association and the New England Turf Writers Association. He has been a finalist for numerous awards.

Since 1995 he has appeared on numerous radio shows as either a co-host or guest, including Horse Talk on 1510 FM, Suffolk Downs Today on 850 AM and At The Post on 1110 AM.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Class of 2012: Deepest in Decades

By Tony Palmisano

BOSTON, April 25, 2012--The 2012 Derby Chase has, since January, given us one of the deepest and most talented fields of three-year-old colts in decades. As of Friday, 30 of the graded stakes races leading up to the Kentucky Derby listed on Daily Racing Form's 2012 Road to the Kentucky Derby had been run.

Those 32 races, beginning on Jan. 8 with the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and bracketed by the Lexington and Jerome Stakes of April 21, were won by 28 different 3-year-olds.

Look no further than last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race for more proof that this is a deep and talented crop of special colts. No less than nine colts that ran in last year’s Juvenile race won by Hansen have come back this year to win a graded stakes race.

Have you heard the term key race? In the 25 year running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, no edition has ever produced so many graded winners.

“We are on the verge of something very special,” said Union Rags trainer Michael Matz earlier this week when asked about the colts his charge will face in the Derby in two weeks.

“This is a very competitive group. It’s a very exciting time for all the owners and trainers with a Derby contender,” Matz said.

In a normal Derby year, you can narrow the field of 20 runners down to about 6 but this year is truly exceptional so below please see a brief profile of my Derby Dozen in alphabetical order.

1. Apha, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin was a game second to Gemologist in the Wood after a long layoff, should move forward off his last performance. Recent physical issue doesn’t help him here.

2. Bodemeister, trained by Bob Baffert is coming off a monster performance in the Arkansas Derby. The front runner will need to use his tactical speed against the other speed horses like Hansen and Trinniberg if he wants to wear the roses.

3. Creative Cause, trained by Mike Harrington is a California based runner. He has a solid foundation for the 12 furlongs and one of the elite contenders.

4. Daddy Nose Best, trained by Steve Asmussen has improved dramatically this year, picks up rider Garrett Gomez and is training brilliantly at Churchill.

5. Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, is the late running winner of the Toyota Blue Grass. In a year like this why not a deep closer, who’s peaking at the right time? Looks like he’ll stay the distance which is always a huge concern in the Derby.

6. El Padrino, one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s runners, has the pedigree to handle the grueling mile and a quarter Derby distance. He is very fast and if the track comes up sloppy, watch out.

7. Gemologist, Pletcher’s other runner, won the Wood Memorial in impressive fashion over Alpha and is coming into the Derby peaking at the right time; a major contender.

8. Hansen, trained by Mike Maker, is a terrific colt who ran a game second in the Blue Grass while controlling the pace. He’ll need to move forward and prove he can stay the 12 furlongs if he’s to win against this bunch.

9. I’ll Have Another, trained by Doug O’Neil, won the Santa Anita Derby. He’s a lightly raced horse who and may regress in the Derby due to his lack of foundation and stamina but is very fast on performance figures. Can’t be dismissed.

10. Take Charge Indy, trained by Pat Bryne, is another speed type who will certainly make his presence felt at some point during the race. It’s just a question if he’s good enough against some of the elite contenders. In a normal Derby year, he’d be one of the favorites. Like several other runners this year, they’re just in too deep.

11. Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, is probably the most unlucky colt in the group, having lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Hansen by a nose and the Florida Derby by a length. Otherwise, this guy would be undefeated. I voted him two-year-old champion, thinking he was the best then and I still think he’s the best now. I believe Matz left gallons of fuel in the tank going into the Florida Derby and the colt was not even close to being race fit. He will be fit and ready on Derby day; my top choice.

12. Went the Day Well, trained by Graham Motion, has taken the same exact route to the Derby as his stable mate, Derby winning Animal Kingdom, having posted an impressive win in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes. The six week layoff is a concern and he’ll need to make the massive progress at Churchill that ‘Kingdom” did to be a factor against these.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone other than the horses named above cross the finish line first on Saturday, May 5th. There are just too many good horses this season. It’s shaping up to be, as Matz said, something very special.

Written by Tony Palmisano

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Making New Memories While Recalling Old Ones

BOSTON, April 5, 2012--The first time I walked into the old Gulfstream Park it was like walking into Yankee Stadium. I was a fresh-faced, young and impressionable turf writer who knew the names of all the great horses who raced there from my dad.

My dad was a racing fan his entire life. He’d fondly recall the names of some of the greats; Northern Dancer, In Reality, Nashua. These were just a few of his all-time favorite Gulfstream performers.

It was 1978, the year Alydar won the Florida Derby. I stood at the fence of the old paddock and thought about the great horses my father told me about that became stars under the bright South Florida sun.

Over the next 20 years I was fortunate enough to see Proud Truth start his championship campaign in 1985; Unbridled in 1990; Holy Bull four years later, then Thunder Gulch and Unbridled's Song in the two years following.

Florida Derby day, like big race day at any venue, was special. To witness them first-hand is a memory that lasts a lifetime--just like the two Breeders' Cups in 1989 and again three years later.

In 1992, I celebrated the victory of Prized the Breeder's Cup Turf with my good friend Ed Fountaine of the New York Post. Back in the day, the PR guy was the legendary Joe Tannenbaum.

Hall of Famer Joe Hirsch, the dean of America’s turf writers was a press box fixture, along with Andy Beyer, John Pricci, Bob Roberts and Bill Christine, to name just a few of the great turf writers who made the annual trip to South Florida to cover the Derby.

Along with Bill Finley, I was the young kid in the room but you would never know if from the way the veteran writers treated us. The old Gulfstream press box was a great space.

Over the last decade, my travels to Florida have been limited. I’ve heard many things about the new Gulfstream. It’s fair to say that the reviews were mixed, so I decided it was time to see for myself.

And so I called an old colleague, Dave Joseph, former Sun-Sentinel turf writer and now Gulfstream's Press Director. The media staff is lean but very talented.

Former Boston Herald turf writer Ed Gray seeks out the great back stories, along with veteran publicist Jack Will. The certainly make up in quality what they lack in quantity. It was good to see these two professionals on my first visit to the new press office.

I confess that I miss the camaraderie of the old Gulfstream Press Box but things change as older tracks give way to today's modern racinos. Given a dearth of full time turf writers these days, there’s no need for a traditional press box.

But Gulfstream has made available a very comfortable space in one of the third floor suites. It’s quiet and comes with a wireless modem. Given that, and access to needed racing information, what more could a modern-day writer want or need?

But I do miss the old paddock where I first learned about horses from my dad. The new paddock is more of a walking ring, small, workmanlike and the stadium seating surrounding it is unique to American racetracks.

I'm not a casino player but those casino areas are open and spacious and I was very impressed with the simulcast room, Silks; lots of large screen TV's, along with individual consoles with plenty of betting windows and self-service machines.

I could see myself playing the races there on simulcast afternoons. The amenity I really did like were the ladies walking around taking bets. Several times I was saved a long walk to the windows by these lovely and pleasant tellers.

The new Gulfstream will most likely never host another Breeder's Cup but that's not the goal anymore but with memories of the old days still fresh and everlasting, the new Gulfstream has already begun to write its own history.

Now the names are Barbaro, Big Brown, Quality Road. I'm betting that in the future, fathers will be telling their sons that Kentucky Derby winner Union Rags prepped here. I’m sure if he had a chance, that’s exactly what my father would have done.

Written by Tony Palmisano

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Major Players Control Fate of Thoroughbred Racing at Suffolk Downs

BOSTON, March 14, 2012--There’s a heavyweight fight taking place in Boston soon and it doesn’t include Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather. Nor is it being promoted by either Bob Arum or Don King.

Battle lines are drawn and billions of dollars are in play, a high-stakes battle over who will operate and control racing and gaming in Massachusetts.

After decades of lobbying for casinos in the Commonwealth, new gaming laws have created a good old fashioned power struggle, pitting some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the state and gaming industry against each other.

On one side is Bob Kraft, New England Patriots owner, and Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts. Known for his luxury and innovations in Las Vegas, Wynn symbolizes the new Las Vegas as designer and builder of such opulent resorts such as The Mirage, Bellagio and Wynn Resort.

Parenthetically, Wynn subsequently sold both the Mirage and Bellagio.

In the other corner of the ring are the racing executives at Suffolk Downs, a group supported by Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The group has deep political connections and is backed by the gaming expertise of Caesar’s Entertainment’s CEO Gary Loveman.

It’s safe to say that neither side is going down without a fight. At stake is the very future and gaming and horse racing in Massachusetts.

Led by Joe O’Donnell, the former owner of the Boston Culinary Group with a 20% interest in Suffolk Downs, the Suffolk group wields a ton of political clout. O’Donnell is tight with Mayor Menino and Menino wants the track to have the license at the East Boston oval for the jobs and revenue it will create for his city.

Another dominant player in the Suffolk group is Richard Fields, the former head of Donald Trump’s casinos. As managing partner, Fields bought 42% of the struggling racetrack back in 2007, betting his gamble would someday pay huge dividends as a gaming site.

Last April, Caesar’s Loveman bought 4% of the track in a deal whereby Suffolk would retain control of the property for development, racing and licensing while Caesar’s would operate the casino. Loveman completes the roll call of key Suffolk players.

Kraft, meanwhile, is no stranger to politics; a self-proclaimed heavyweight in those circles. Kraft, with son Jonathan, has spent years turning the Patriots into winners and built a new 70,000 stadium in Foxboro along with Patriot Place, an upscale shopping complex with Movie Theater and hotel. Think Frank Stronach, NFL style.

Kraft has his sights firmly set on a resort casino. However, NFL rules prohibit him from having ownership in a casino and that’s where Wynn comes in as a lessee, one who would also develop the property and operate the casino.

The team of Kraft and Wynn fully realize that the major jewel in a three-casino plan is the Eastern region. Simply put, a Boston-based casino would make a lot more money than having one in Foxboro.

With so much money at stake, there are bound to be a few other players added to the mix. At the moment, Sheldon Adelson is the 400-pound gorilla waiting at the door.

Adelson, a local boy from Dorchester in not only one of the richest men on the planet but is also CEO of Las Vegas Sands, one of the world’s biggest gaming companies. He has yet to declare interest in his home state’s casino future but insiders say Adelson is no fan of Wynn.

It wouldn’t be a huge upset if he came to the table at the 11th hour with a proposal, if only to block his nemesis Wynn from profiting on his home turf. Connected, deep-pocketed people are poised to compete in the biggest stakes race ever run in the Bay State.

If you are a fan of racing, you should have an interest in rooting for the Suffolk group to win. For nearly two decades they’ve been fighting hard to survive against neighboring casinos, better purses in other racing states, and competition for the dwindling gaming dollar.

Suffolk--which opens for live racing on May 14 and continues through Breeders’ Cup day--have kept racing alive in Massachusetts, not to mention nearly 1,000 jobs.

The battle to control the future of racing and gaming in this state, given the size of the stakes and the egos involved, figures to go the distance, a sure-fire 12 rounds. Suffolk has proven it cares about horse racing and those deriving a living from it. What are the chances Kraft and Wynn will feel the same way?

Written by Tony Palmisano

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