Musings on the 2016 Saratoga Meet

September 9, 2016

By: William G. Gotimer, Jr.

img_4861As another Saratoga season has sadly ended I have tried to boil down the season into a neat article but found this season to be too multi-faceted to do so. Therefore I shall put forth the following observations and/or questions for your review and comment:

EXPERIENCE:
The 2016 Saratoga meet was generally a success but does not appear to have any historical significance.

Despite a number of gimmicks and changes, business was down slightly from the prior year. The decrease in handle was undoubtedly impacted by the partial cancellation of a Saturday card and the refusal of the NYRA to accept show bets on races that included Songbird or Flintshire.

The handle was boosted by running 11 or 12 races on many weekend days; the elongation of time between post times in the later races (stretching the day until almost 7 pm many nights); the addition of a late pick 5; delaying the start well past post time before the start of the pick 6 and generally good weather.
An optimist would say handle decrease was inevitable in a year following the American Pharoah phenomenon – a pessimist would say sacrificing the integrity of the daily racing schedule and elongating the day did not even allow a match of last year’s handle. It is what it is.

img_5070The elongation of the day was unsettling to many veteran players who found the 38 minutes between posts in the later races distracting. From conversations with various inside parties and despite protestations from the horsemen, riders, local restaurants and fans, it seems like the NYRA is enamored of the late days and consider it a success. It allows NYRA to sell more concessions which is increasingly what Saratoga race track is becoming – a large concession stand. Put this in the category of “a bad idea whose time has come.”

To that point, a day at Saratoga is becoming more like a day at the US Open each year. The crowd is more homogeneous and affluent than ever and there appears to have been a pricing out of the lower income racing fans. That is too bad. The glory of a racetrack crowd is its diversity – all different, all chasing the same thing – a winner. I am reminded of a quote pointed out to me by friend, Joe Bonney.

Former Louisiana Governor John McKeithen, was on the LSU Board of Supervisors when they proposed installing luxury boxes atop Tiger Stadium. McKeithen was uneasy with the idea. He reportedly said,
“There’s something wrong to me about the people in luxury boxes looking down on the masses. When a refinery worker and a bank president spend three hours sitting next to each other on bleacher seats, it does both of them some good.”

img_5165The same can be said about horseplayers of different echelons mingling in the stands, on line, near the paddock, at the entrances etc. Handicapping a race is the great equalizer. We should be careful not to lose that in the quest to upscale the experience.

The hotels in Saratoga are greater in number each year but the increased prices have made many opt for hotels in Albany and other surrounding areas during the week. This has helped cab drivers but hurt restaurants. This further hurts the mingling of horseplayers in town.

The giveaway days continue to cause bad feeling as spinners take everything and generally get in the way earlier in the day. The long sleeve give away on closing Sunday was a shame. Most racing fans could not get one. This whole promotion should be ended. It is not befitting of a race track as grand as Saratoga to see people entering just to get some giveaway and then proudly leave before the first race is run. Maybe each coupon should be given upon the purchase of a $50 betting voucher.

The outside bar at Sperry’s has become the new place for racetrackers to congregate to talk about the races.

Listening to Sirsy at Gaffney’s on Sunday nights (or anywhere on any night) is the best place to relax and dance.

Lake Local is the best place for lunch if the weather is good.

Congratulations to the escalator which worked all meet without fail.

Congratulations to the young disabled whitecap who stamped my hand each day leaving the clubhouse. God bless you and those who hired you and assist you.

RACING:
img_5195The product on the racetrack was generally good. With the increase in races there was the occasional lower level claiming races – two of which were won by a horse I partially owned – Greyjoy in a five day period – but the overall quality of the meet was good. We had sobering breakdowns but there did not seem to be a problem with any of the track surfaces.

The racing was plagued by short fields in a number of graded stakes races.

The Mellon Turf course became very speed favoring in the final two weeks and the number of track records set in the last two weeks on all surfaces indicate a surface condition not eye popping performances. Take them all with a grain of salt.
It is unclear whether the Arrogate performance was an anomaly or portends a budding superstar. Time will tell.

Songbird proved she is the best three year old filly in the land by coming east to meet all challengers. Kudos to the connections of Carina Mia and Go Maggie Go for each trying to beat Songbird. Both paid the price but the sportsmanship is greatly appreciated by fans.

Mike Smith clearly does not suffer jet lag when he flies to Albany.

Graham Motion survived three stewards’ inquiries without being taken down – which must be some kind of record.

The riding was unusually rough and the stewards unusually restrained in their disqualifications. It is time to crack down before someone – human or equine – gets seriously hurt. While I am all for competitive fire, thoroughbreds should not be used as bumper cars. It eventually winds up in a tragedy.

The NYRA circuit is ripe for a hot bug boy to come along now that Saratoga is over.

The use of Inordinate as a rabbit and the courteous treatment given to Flintshire by Inordinate’s rider caused much comment and revealed a bitterness towards the bigger barns that is normally kept private.

Todd Pletcher having no starter in the Saratoga Special is noteworthy and a sign that times have changed. The fact the race was won by a horse trained by leading trainer Chad Brown only further drives home the point.

Time and Motion is probably better than Catch a Glimpse at a distance longer than a mile.

Recepta was a nice horse and I hope her recovery allows her to go to the breeding shed.

AP Indian is for real (despite my doubts).

Jose Ortiz has become a truly top rider and now needs the big horse to make his reputation nationwide.

Jimmy Jerkens is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Carlos Martin is a force again having survived the passing of long time client Carl Lizza a few years ago.

QUESTIONS:

  • Why is there ever a stakes race where Javier Castellano doesn’t have a mount?
  • Should the Pick 6 be abandoned in favor of a permanent late pick 5?
  • Was anyone else surprised that the stewards didn’t know there were two rabbits being used on Travers Day?
  • Should the Red Jacket ceremony be removed from its mid-day between races slot?
  • How big will Tom Morley’s barn be this time next year?
  • Can we do away with the hat contest next year?
  • Is it good business to have the last race of the day often conducted in front of an empty grandstand because it is so late?
  • Will there ever be another disqualification for what happens at the beginning of a race?

With that, we wrap up the 2016 Saratoga meet. The good news is there are only 45 weekends until Saratoga opening day 2017.

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Comments

  1. Joe Morrone Sep 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Great article, is there a way you can become CEO of NYRA? Trainers should not be allowed to enter uncoupled entrees. Many races are run like roller derby to insure a dubious outcome. Bettors are skeptical enough about the game. Stewards should have there deliberations recorded and available to the public. Thanks again for some valuable insights.

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