Is the new or reborn Wilson chute at Saratoga potentially dangerous or just a bad idea?
Some interesting thoughts and takes on Saratoga Race Course and the 2022 race meet just prior to opening day
Saratoga racetrack opened in 1863. To celebrate part of that history they named the recently built building at the end of the Clubhouse The 1863 Club. It is one of the oldest sports venues in the country. The first meet was 4 days long. Over time Saratoga became the August place to be with a stellar quality over quantity based meet. The racing was 4 weeks, with Tuesdays being the dark day. That was when you did laundry, went to Lake George or Saratoga Lake or enjoyed some pool time with tomorrow’s racing form. There is a lot of history to Saratoga, the town, the track, the people and the race meet.
Things change. Saratoga Springs was always somewhat commercialized and geared towards capitalizing on the August crowds who poured into the quaint and historic country town. The restaurants changed their prices for August. The motels and hotels did the same. It was not uncommon for homeowners to vacate their homes for motels an hour away for the month of August and rent their homes to racetrackers for the meet. The cost often paid their mortgage for the entire year.
The town is now more like a tourist trap city. Despite that, the history and vibe just can’t be erased, even with all the commercialization and modernizing. There is just something about Saratoga for racing people. There always has been and always will be.
Today, as great as The Spa still is, it is a shell of what it once was. The track itself has been segregated into profit centers. Movement throughout the facility is restrictive. The races are watered down quality wise. Claiming races and cards that could be run at Aqueduct on a winter Wednesday make up many weekday races and cards. You’d never see that back in the day. That is when we bred to race as opposed to sell, and the maiden special weight races were filled with horses no amount of money could buy. They were raced with pride and not for sale. Opening day 2022 we have a maiden special weight race with a 105K purse and six horses. There is one Godolphin homebred in the field. That is just not what Saratoga was, nor was intended to be. I liken it to a vintage red Ferrari. You don’t buy one of those and head to K Mart to put an after market spoiler on it. You don’t even repaint it. It lessens the value. Ferrari clubs will exclude you. An unworthy owner you’d be called. Extending the meet for money, continually commercializing the facility and prices has not helped to preserve this historic venue. The ghosts of Saratoga past do that despite the modern interference. I hope they always can.
There is a lot we can talk about when it comes to Saratoga. We can talk about the trainer who has been charged with animal cruelty but has two horses in on the opening day card. This following a very public statement by NYRA about “integrity.” We can talk about the new profit center paddock bar that will likely have drunks hanging over the rail possibly spooking horses. Let alone the noise. I remember sitting in the new Stretch section a few years ago. I had to leave to play and watch the last race when the band started. If I wanted to go to a karaoke bar I would have. I actually wanted to bet and watch a horse race at Saratoga. Who would have thought that? We can talk about shills, paid or unpaid bragging what a great card and great racing the meet starts off with. They must have a different set of entries and past performances than I do. I found it mediocre at best.
I am not going to go into any of that. I will talk about this new, or reborn Wilson chute I find preposterous. Saratoga did fine without a one mile dirt race. This chute gives a significant disadvantage to outside drawn horses. This stinks for the owners of those horses and the trainers and riders who want to win at The Spa. The game is tough enough. What about the bettors? Do you want to bet outside horses in the one mile Wilson chute races? I don’t. What about the rail horse? Any chance he gets slammed into the wood by the sharp left turn outside horses will just about be forced to make? Who, why, how, was this considered to be a good idea or something Saratoga needed? I think it is ridiculous, potentially dangerous, and an unneeded intangible in a hard game with more than its fair share of variables already present. Why they didn’t build it straight like a “normal” fair and safe shoot is a head-scratcher for me. maybe it was cheaper this way? If you ask me, and I realize nobody is, I say shoot the chute and get rid of it like they did last time. Do it before we have a bottle up accident.
I love Saratoga as much as anyone. I practically grew up there. I think I had my first unofficial job there. That was when I was about 10 and my father worked in the paddock section of the pari-mutuels. We spent every August there. At that time on the rear of the paddock pari-mutuel windows was a paddock where the outriders kept their ponies. A young man named Dale worked in it mostly shoveling manure. My Mom would put a sheet from the racing form on the bench right next to it facing the actual race horse paddock. That was her reserved seat for the meet. I ran around the facility like I owned it. I knew everyone and they knew me. Dale took a liking to me and let me shovel manure for him which I was happy to do. Legendary Jim Daly was the head outrider. He always looked sharp and always had on those dark sunglasses. He taught me how to handle his pony and how not to have any fear of horses. He was as kind as kind could be. Ah, if we could only go back instead of forward.
Photo: Drawing of Wilson Chute configuration based on Daily Racing Form