HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., February 9, 2012—I’m very much looking forward to Saturday’s racing program here, both for the sporting aspects and for the betting opportunities it’s sure to provide.

When horses come off layups, value is almost assured. After all, one never knows with certitude that the returnee will bring his ‘A’ game to the dance or not. Perhaps the better question involving a classy returnee is whether his ‘B’ game would be good enough.

Depending on your judgment and how you perceive the betting public will interpret the data likely will determine whether or not you’re getting the best bang for your betting buck.

Remember, of course, it’s not about which horse you think will win that counts; it’s whether the post time odds are commensurate with the horse's real chance of winning. That’s the definition of value.

This question of value as it relates to this year’s renewal of the Donn--with headliners Preakness-winning Shackleford vs. Belmont-winning Ruler On Ice and a strong supporting cast--will enable players to know whether A minus B equals C: Cashing.

The race is being billed as a battle of classic winners which, of course, it is. But this is no match race. Trickmeister, a talented and extremely fast riva, is an expected starter. And did we mention that Trickmeister is undefeated owns a powerhouse prep over the track?

That race was the Harlan’s Holiday overnight stakes at a mile and a sixteenth, a race Trickmeister won by 5¼ lengths in 1:42.63, on the engine all the way. The question is whether the speedy Preakness winner will duel Trickmeister--or himself--into defeat, and will Ruler On Ice pick up those pieces if he does? He blew out nicely, and quite easily, between races this afternoon, as did stablemate Redeemed beneath Edgar Prado.

Each returnee shows five published workouts through February 8th. All works were termed breezing; Shackleford’s coming on Saturday’s racetrack and Ruler On Ice's at the Palm Meadows training center.

Regular rider Jesus Castanon rides the Preakness winner; Rosie Napravnik is shipping in from NOLA to ride Ruler On Ice, replacing the sidelined Garrett Gomez.

Shackleford’s works have alternated between brilliant and ordinary; Ruler On Ice’s have been on the sharper, shorter side.

But whether the latter is by design or because his sometimes obstreperous behavior requires special handling is just another part of this tricky puzzle, hopefully one that will be solved prior to post time.

Of the other three graded stakes of interest on the Donn undercard is the seasonal debut of Ever So Lightly in the Hutcheson, three year olds at 7 furlongs.

The Jonathan Sheppard trainee won his Churchill Downs sprint debut very impressively before finishing a worthy second on short rest in the two-turn Jockey Club Stakes.

the talented colt has had a small hiccup in preparation for his first start at 3, suffering a bone bruise several weeks ago and missing a few weeks of training.

Having run in late November, however, it might only be a question of Ever So Lucky’s mental sharpness rather than a conditioning issue. A recent workout was disappointing, however, and that's worth noting. In that case, Thunder Moccasin, who made a strong winning debut for Todd Pletcher, could prove the key to this if he's mature enough to handle the assignment in only his second start.

Known for his patience, developmental skills, and steeplechasing expertise, Sheppard is a member of Racing’s Hall of Fame but never has had a Kentucky Derby starter.

Sheppard admits it’s a part of his resume that’s incomplete but in typical Sheppard style assured that he wouldn’t enter a horse in the Derby just to say he’s been there and done that. You don’t reach racing’s Pantheon by taking shots.

New York Horsemen Heed Siren’s Call

In a rousing State of the State message last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced the notion of expanded gaming for New York. It was a speech that seemed to augur well for Thoroughbred racing’s future despite issues concerning the New York Racing Association and poor fiscal health of the state’s regional OTBs.

In a recent Newsday interview, however, the popular and pragmatic first citizen questioned just how big a role Thoroughbred racing would play in the state’s future. Whether this was or was not a shot across the racing’s bow, the industry got the message.

In less than a fortnight, the equivalent of a half-mile in 43-flat, an alliance called the “New York State Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance” was formed, an amalgam of Thoroughbred and Harness horsemen and breeders along with the New York Farm Bureau.

In all, 10 individual organizations united under one umbrella came together with a single purpose: To get its fair share of any additional revenues raised through expanded gaming, namely table games.

According to the alliance, at issue here are 40,000 jobs that the state’s agribusiness provides, which certainly does not come as news to Mr. Cuomo.

Neither is the fact that this kind of talk will prove politically unpopular in a Capital District that includes Saratoga Race Course, the country’s most prestigious Thoroughbred venue and a powerful economic engine within the region and state.

Short of revenue sharing, all alliance factions probably would sign immediately for a deal assuring that the status quo be maintained, at minimum. Cuomo’s approval rating is off the charts; it will be interesting to see who blinks first when and if expanded gaming becomes a reality.