A credit crunch hasn't stopped keen-eyed horse shopping

Oct 14, 2008 5:03 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Back from the yearling sales in Lexington, Kentucky, where the young ponies held up relatively well under the brutal pounding from Wall Street and Washington.

Slots at racinos at tracks in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Delaware and Ontario kept the horse market alive, fueling purses paid to winning horses so remarkably that the chanciest of all gambles – hoping that a good pedigree and proper conformation will allow four fragile legs to hold up under the battering of racing – still is drawing brave investors.

Why not? In harness racing this year, two 3-year-olds, a trotting colt named Deweycheatumnhowe and a pacing colt named Somebeachsomewhere, turned the sport upside down.

Dewey, who cost $80,000 as a yearling, has won over $3 million, and Beach, as he is known, is not far behind. He cost $40,000 at the yearling sales two years ago and now has won $2.5 million. That’s pretty fair return on investment. Deweycheatumnhowe has won 19 of 20 races, Somebeachsomewhere has won 21 of 23. If you like to roll ‘em, those are pretty enticing numbers.

The names of the two colts have added to their charisma, and the shooters were out in force trying to pick two more like Dewey and Beach out of the barrel. Huge odds are stacked against them, but they are still better than the lottery, and the winners can emerge healthy and perhaps wealthy.

Like all gambling, part of the allure is thinking you’re smarter than the next guy, and can see things he missed, or never knew. Or are just luckier. Or, unfortunately, a new part of the appeal, making a small circle of guys rich, is having a better druggist.

Racing is gaining on these guys, but like casinos in Vegas it calls for constant vigilance. If one or two wind up in the slammer, it would help level the table.

I was auctioning high quality racing art in Lexington for a worthy cause, a college scholarship fund I have run for 31 years. Five young fillies walked off with the scholarships this year, shutting out all the colts, and I wound up with laryngitis after selling 200 or so paintings, carvings and bronzes on their behalf.

While nursing my wounds, I began reflecting on my next big undertaking, a Racing Congress to be held at Bellagio in February. Catching up on my reading, I came across a Reuters piece on a young lady named Brittany McClain.

She is 21-years-old and spends her nights stripping at the Rio’s Sapphire, euphemistically known as a gentlemen’s club, and her days stripping, at least halfway, at the Rio’s topless pool.

The Rio, I learned, is not alone. Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, the Mirage, the Venetian and the Wynn all have opened topless pools. Bellagio was not mentioned, but a guy can hope.

This new business is not charity. It costs between $30 and $50 to gain admission to the harem, I discover, where the topless beauties of the night spend their leisurely days. Cameras and lap dancing are not permitted, Reuters says, but quotes Renee Shaffer, deputy chief of enforcement of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, as saying bare breasts cross no lines "consistent with public safety, health and morals," at least as long as the male animals stay in their cages or are submissive out of them.

Armed with all this new knowledge, I weighed changing the agenda of my upcoming meeting, but decided against it. It is a business meeting, and a big one, and I want to avoid big distractions. I thought about having Brittany McClain speak, but she told Reuters the Rio’s new partnership with the Sapphire keeps her busy day and night, and "If I’m not stripping or at the pool, I’m sleeping."

Another great idea shot in the butt. No one ever said meeting planning is easy.