07/15/2010 2:31PM

Emerald & Neon


Every July I try to take a summer road trip to freshen up before Saratoga, and this year's version was a western swing that took me to Seattle and Las Vegas over the last week. I know, tough gig.

Emerald2 As constant readers know, I am inordinately fond of Emerald Downs, the picturesque oval just outside Seattle in Auburn, Washington. How can you not like a track whose owner, Ron Crockett, has a SAM machine in the corporate conference room so that business never gets in the way of his horseplaying?

Emerald runs live racing from April through September, and it seems that the majority of the largely Washington-bred horse population gets a vacation the other six months a year while the facility remains open for simulcasting. It's not uncommon to see races filled with older veterans whose lengthy career pp lines all begin with an EmD. 

Even so, Emerald is having the same struggles as almost every other track in America -- shorter fields and fewer available horses due mainly to owners getting out of the game due to shrinking disposable income in the current economic climate. There are more six-horse fields than in recent years, but unlike many such events in New York or California, these fields are rarely mismatches involving an odds-on favorite and two or three hopless entrants who have been hustled to make the race go. Instead, there's rarely more than a single throwout even in the short fields, and there's a throwback feeling to the many races where the top three or four contenders have been facing each other time and again.

After a morning handicapping seminar with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group of local players who were at the track nearly three hours before the first live race to play the eastern simulcasts, I got involved in the Summit of Speed pick-4 and somehow managed to have it for only a buck despite successfully trying to beat 1-9 D'Funnybone in the Carry Back and liking turnback Jessica Is Back in the Princess Rooney. For reasons that escape me at the moment, I used Azalea winner Pica Slew as only a C, leaving me alive only to winning favorite Big Drama and turnback Mambo Meister, who unfortunately fell a length and a half short of catching the chalk. I spent the rest of the afternoon frittering back most of the proceeds via bad opinions on the Emerald races.

Elliottsoysters On the Seattle tourism front, I highly recommend the oysters at Elliott's on the harbor, but was disappointed with an attempted visit to the iconic Space Needle, where an $18 admission fee for a half-hour wait to ride an elevator chased me away. This was not, however, the worst pricing I've seen at a tourist attraction this year. On a recent trip to San Diego I had time to kill before a dinner and since Sea World was on the way I decided to check it out. The cheapest adult admission price to spend an hour looking around the place: $69.95. Even though the last Shamu show of the day was over.

On Sunday it was on to Vegas, where the Main Event of the World Series of Poker was beginning without me. Maybe I'll play it once someday just to say I did, but the entry fee can be put to better use at Saratoga than in buying what amounts to a $10,000 lottery ticket.

IMG_0298 The influx of WSOP players, however, meant that the places on the Strip I usually like to stay in Vegas were sold out, so I decided to revisit Old Vegas, i.e. Downtown, where you can get palatial accomodations for the price of a couple of twin beds on the Strip.

The two-story suite at the Golden Nugget with the spiral staircase and private steambath was cheap and sweet indeed, but the price you pay is being in the middle of the "Fremont Street Experience," which rattles the windows from sundown till midnight with a disco-cover band and a Kiss-themed lightshow projected onto the roof that now bridges Fremont Street. Fortunately, the Nugget's poker room was out of range, but sadly was stocked only with WSOP-shunning locals who were tight as drums.

Across the street at Binion's, the poker room was empty. The WSOP began there in 1970 with just six players when the facility was called the Horseshoe. Participation in the $10k buy-in Main Event peaked at 8,773 players in 2006; this year's edition, currently in its fifth day at the Rio, drew 7,319 entrants, with $68.7 million of the $73.1 million in entry fees going into a prize pool that includes an $8.9 million first prize -- a takeout rate of just 6 percent.

Anyway, I'm back home now with a lot of Belmont racing to catch up on since Saratoga opens in a mere...can it really be only eight days until the first Hattie's fried-chicken sandwich of 2010?  

ponyman More than 1 year ago
TURN THE PAGE-even Ray Talbout could figure this race out--Friday,s 10th at Monmouth. What a fiasco--congrats to Contessa.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
David H: Dunkin Donuts on South Broadway is open quite late (they might even run 24/7) & is surprisingly good, in case you’re burning midnight oil & need affordable coffee & snacks. Mrs. London’s has great pastries, sandwiches, & desserts - but their prices will make the 26% takeout look cheap, in comparison. Hit a triple. Next door is one of the last authentic, old-time drug stores. Go look-see. Try to avoid staying anywhere in town itself, as the rock & other high-decibel bands play until quite late at night. And when the delivery trucks at 3 a.m. hit the potholes, the trailer with the cargo gets lifted up in the air - & then comes down with a crash that can & does wake up the dead. (If this advice is moot & you are already committed to staying in town, consider either buying the Bose headphones or pitching a tent in the town cemetery.) The greatest non-chained bookstore ever, the Lyrical Ballad, is on Phila Street, off Broadway. If you enjoy finding inexpensive used books or want to buy expensive new ones, you’ll enjoy going there (ignore the creative clutter; all Off-Broadway productions are rough-hewn). The strikingly beautiful battle monument in Schuylerville, east of Saratoga Springs, is well worth the short trip. Climb up the circular stairs in the monument’s interior, & the views at about 200 feet above ground are very beautiful (good weather only; off the turf = no view). Milton, to the west, has one of the country’s best (challenging) & beautiful miniature golf courses (quite close to the airport) & is also well worth the relatively short trip. Unfortunately, they dumbed down the snack bar menu, so eat elsewhere before visiting. It is a sacred tradition that the hottest day of the year in SS is ALWAYS Travers day. If you have to bail out of the track due to the steam, consider going to the Saratoga National Golf Club; their air-conditioned cocktail lounge has numerous wide screen TVs. Call ahead & ask if they will be able to get the race on TV. Have Fun!
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
ML/NJ (from the last blog): I understand why you don't like late starts, but the fact is, many younger people who otherwise won't come out for a 1:00 PM first post are much more likely to with first post at 3:00 or later. That's why I'd be doing it at NYRA from April all the way through the end of Saratoga, plus next year on Saturday 7/2 and Sunday 7/3 at Belmont with fireworks following both cards (again, taking a page from what Arlington did a couple of weeks ago in regard to the 4th of July weekend). It may disrupt dinner for some, but I think the benefits of the later post times outweigh the disruptions in that regard.
eeebayou More than 1 year ago
Didn't do the exact IRS math, but in the past in CA I've been taxed 28% on winning $5K plus winners and not taxed on the smaller consolations. Just a thought since each of them is an individual wager. In your case, it looks like you were taxed 25% on your winning Pick 6 and nothing on the 5's for an effective rate of 21.8% overall.
SamG More than 1 year ago
I just found out that thanks to the geniuses on the Illinois Racing Board I can't bet Belmont and won't be able to bet on Saratoga.This industry is it's own worst enemy.
YYZGUY More than 1 year ago
Walt P, the campaign you've mapped out for Zenyatta has the endorsement of William H Livingston.
John More than 1 year ago
Steve, I live just three miles from Emeralddowns and I wish they'd never built the track in the first place. It is nothing more than a concrete antiseptic blight on the Kent-Auburn valley created years ago by the lava flow from Mt. Rainier. The old Longacres track had a personality to it - Gary Stevens, Trooper Seven...but Emerald Downs has as much personality as the old Kingdom had - a vacant and depressing mausoleum. Steve, next time you're in this area check out the Pike Place Market instead of the Space Needle, or walk along the waterfront and grab some fish at Ivar's, or even take the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square.
Alex More than 1 year ago
Great post as always. Have you started reconnaisance on where the Cheese Waffies are available in the greater Spa area as of yet?
pop pops boy More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve and all, I posted this over on Dan's blog with a variety of answers. Anyone have a definitive answer and a legitimate excuse as to why we get wacked for 26% on initial investment and then if we get lucky enough we get wacked another 20% for the pick 6 ticket along with the 5 out of 6's being tossed in the over all taxed pool. (ridiculous). And finally, the pleasure of trying to make it fit in somehow on the tax day in April. from Dan's blog... Thanks for the responses for the pick 6 question I had. Here is the question I asked Youbet.com and their response. Also, here is the $80 ticket and the payoff after taxed...any thoughts? 1,5 / 1-10 / 4 / 1 / 1,2 / 2 before taxes $6,337.20 taxes taken $1,385.00 payoff after taxes $4,952.20 Hi, On Sunday I was lucky enough to win the pick 6 at Hollywood Park for $5500. I also hit the 5 out of 6 eleven times for $72 and change each. My question is why was the eleven 5 of 6 payoffs for $72 and change included in the 20% Federal withholding tax? They were all separate $2 tickets so I can't understand why they would be included in the major payoff of $5500. youbet's response... Thank you for contacting Youbet.com. New Federal regulations require that all wagers that are exactly the same be added together and treated as a single wager for tax purposes. Should you require further assistance, please reply to this email or contact Player Services at 1-888-968-2388. Representatives are available to assist you daily from 6:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. PST. Thank you for choosing Youbet.com. Sincerely, Player Services Youbet.com [YouBet is correct that the letter of the insane IRS requirements include "aggregating" wagers in this fashion, but many bet-takers ignore it.]
bobm toga More than 1 year ago
steve, good to have you back on the blog..i can tell by your active responses to the bloggers that you are chomping at the bit for the spa meet .. i will be there opening day and hope to bump into you to say hello prior to the first race. (i think i know where to find you after the seminar?) my goal is to be at the spa 20 of the 40 days. best of luck to all.. p.s. monmouth out handled belmont all 3 days last weekend.. as opposed to earlier in the meet. folks are catching on.. will be interested in what happens next weekend..?