Archive for NYRA

Quantity, Not Quality, Has Become The Story at Saratoga

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Saturation at Saratoga

There was a time when trainers and owners took a hard look at their animals before making the decision on whether or not the trip to Saratoga was prudent.

Promising 2-year-olds would not be left behind at Belmont Park or Aqueduct. Saratoga is the perfect showcase for fast youth. Stakes horses with summer objectives, those with available allowance conditions and those at the upper end of the claiming food chain would find opportunity at the Spa.

But this was no place to bring horses running at the lowest claiming levels and certainly not maidens already being offered for sale in claiming races. There would be no opportunity. Saratoga was a boutique meeting, not a consignment shop.

Even as the meeting was expanded from 24 days to 30, 36 and, now 40 days, the quality of the product was closely guarded. This, however, is lost in 21st Century Saratoga. There is at times little discernible difference between some races that find a place on a Saratoga racing program and their counterparts at Finger Lakes, Monmouth, Delaware Park or Parx Racing. Nowadays, there is no such thing as a New York-based horse too cheap for Saratoga.

On Thursday, Aug. 1, an 11-race card that began with two steeplechases included two races for maiden claimers and four other claiming races. By the time horses left the paddock for the 10th, a $20,000 claimer and absolutely unessential, most of the crowd was gone. This was not an isolated incident. Too many cheap races do nothing to keep people from leaving. In fact, it often hastens their departure.

There is simply too much product at Saratoga and much of it does not measure up. Saratoga is ideally an enclave for the equine elite, not a fortress of low-grade pari-mutuel fodder.

The sheer length of the racing day — 10 or more on most weekdays, as many as 12 on weekends, six days a week — is debilitating to all involved and the races being used to senselessly bloat these programs do not belong here. This is about special horses and those with the potential to become special. Yet, established mediocrity is not seen by the New York Racing Association as a negative. Now, if a horse can walk to the paddock, there will be opportunity to run at Saratoga.

Not that long ago, there were no maiden claiming races carded here. They are now plentiful and do nothing to enhance the Saratoga experience. There is more than ample opportunity to run these bottom-level horses at Aqueduct and Belmont. For six weeks, this should be a class act, top to bottom. While the biggest names in racing are present and accounted for, too many cheap horses are permitted to run here in the misguided interest of elongating the daily product until the last 10-cent superfecta wager is placed.

This is entirely counterproductive. The belief that more races regardless of quality results in greater betting handle is fallacious. It has long been established that bettors risk more on high-quality races than on those run for lower-level animals. According to Equibase, U.S. betting handle in July was essentially flat year over year despite a 2.87 percent decline in racing days. This trend has been well established in recent years. Money available to be bet remains constant regardless of the number of opportunities offered and an unwelcomed test of endurance does nothing to hold a crowd.

Complaints during and after the 2012 meeting about the length and suffering overall quality of a day at the races here brought some hope of a more reasonable approach but have apparently fallen upon deaf ears. More than 60 races a week exceed, by far, demand for the product, the public attention span and the limits of staff and employees. By the end of this meeting on Labor Day, NYRA will have run more races in 40 days than should be run in 50.

In the main, the racing here has been contentious and entertaining for all the reasons expected at a Saratoga meeting. But neither of those qualities is dependent upon overly long programs and a six-day racing week. Too much of anything becomes tiresome and there is far too much racing here.

Altering the racing program would take little creativity. Simply eliminate maiden claiming races. That would trim much of the excess. Elevate that bottom claiming level to $35,000. Nine races on a weekday are more than sufficient. Another race or two on weekends is acceptable. But much of what NYRA is now offering the bettors and more casual fans at Saratoga is not only below expectations but insulting. It is certainly not creating an improved entertainment experience at the Spa.

Saratoga is about high-class racing supporting top-class racing. It is not about maiden claimers. That’s why there are tracks in Canandaigua, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. These would be happy to accommodate horses not up to Saratoga snuff. Sadly, there is no longer such a thing as Saratoga snuff.


Is NYRA Doing A Good Enough Job To Deserve To Stay???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Tom Noonan of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Latest ‘fix’ for New York racing

In today’s New York Post, Frederic U. Dicker describes the latest fix for New York racing according to his unnamed sources in the Cuomo Administration. Even though the legislation giving control of New York’s prestigious racetracks to state government has still not been signed by the Governor, he has apparently decided that the real solution is to privatize management of the tracks. Dicker reports that Cuomo “plans to seek public bids for a new operator to replace NYRA, a not-for-profit corporation, from for-profit companies with deep experience in the racing and/or entertainment industries.”

According to a “source with firsthand knowledge:”

Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, with Formula One, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks?

Well, I can think of several reasons. First, and foremost, is that thoroughbred racing in New York has been among the best – I would argue the best – in this country for many years. It is an industry with thousands of jobs throughout the state, and one entire region that is heavily dependent on racing for its economic vitality. If there are going to be major changes in the running of that industry, there should at first be an open and full discussion, not changes announced by executive fiat through a trusted reporter. Let us not forget that the state government’s taking control of racing was accomplished by a heavy-handed campaign of threats and intimidation and rushed through the State Legislature in a matter of days. As best I can determine, there was but one dissenting vote in both the Assembly and Senate. And the state’s media, starting with The New York Times raised not a single questioning voice. Even though this was accomplished with a sense of urgency normally limited to coping with natural disasters, the law still sits, unsigned, on the Governor’s desk, more than three months after its enactment.

Second, there is not the insignificant matter that the state’s seizure was said to be a “temporary” measure, in effect for only three years until control would be returned to a presumably chastened NYRA. In fact, the law specifically sets forth that three-year limit. Now, however, Fred Dicker’s sources are eagerly contemplating the “huge fees” that will be paid by the for-profit entities interested in running the tracks. One would have to think that no sensible business is going to spend a large amount of money for a contract not likely to be awarded – again, according to unnamed sources – until the “middle of next year” that will then expire two years later.

Third, let’s take a look at some of those prospective bidders. My sports loyalties are for teams in Boston, so I only pay attention to news about New York’s teams when it is negative. For that reason, the idea that Madison Square Garden – or one James Dolan – could end up running racing sends a chill down my spine. Now, I may have missed the positive stories about Dolan, but I must say the negative ones are pretty negative. Then there is Santa Anita Park, or to personalize it once more, Frank Stronach. It may be all you need to know about the racing experts in the Cuomo Administration that they think Stronach will be a positive force should he come to New York. They may be unaware that one of the most reliable and regular news stories about Stronach is the frequent and constant changes among the top managers for his racing ventures. The view that he would be a stabilizing influence on New York is nothing short of laughable.

Then there is the matter of the Cuomo Super PAC, or as it is known officially, the Committee to Save New York. The New York Times reported in June that casino interests had contributed some $2.5 million to the group. The Governor has refused to divulge the sources of other contributions that were made before the effective date of a law mandating such disclosures. What we do know, however, is that the Governor has made changing the state constitution to allow casinos one of his priorities. We also know that his interest in horse racing does not extend to attending premier events such as the Belmont Stakes or the Travers, but that in the space of less than four months, he has gone from ramming through a state government takeover of racing to now contracting it out to the highest bidder.

The law permitting the state takeover is entitled the “New York state racing franchise accountability and transparency act of 2012.” If there is one thing that is transparent about the Governor’s behavior relative to horse racing, however, it is that he believes “accountability and transparency” only applies to others. Maybe this time, either major media outlets, or the State Legislature, will pay more attention to what is going on.


Saratoga: Where Racing Makes Sense

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

About Saratoga

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — If the racing landscape has in recent years taken on the look of a lunar typography, this is the antidote.

There is, for 40 days, life at the races.

Saratoga, in spirit, is oblivious to the many things that plague the racing business nowadays. Controversy and tumult, both real and the spawn of agenda-driven contrivance, has become pervasive. But, until Labor Day, we return to racing, horses, tradition, idyllic mornings shrouded in mist illuminated by first light and electric afternoons. Whatever strife, threat and nonsense that waits will be there in September.

For now, the conversation is about the pick-six, not the specter of misguided Federal meddling or the recent state takeover of the New York Racing Association for better (yeah, right) or more realistically and ominously for the worse. It’s about the upcoming pick-four, not debate over the efficacy of Lasix or the long-term ravages of corticosteroids. It’s about 2-year-olds who have revealed the tease of promise in the infancy of careers as yet undefined and about who might show up for the Travers now that I’ll Have Another and Union Rags are retired.. It’s about the midday fast-food decision — Hattie’s fried chicken, Pie on Wheels or the Shake Shack. It’s about the dominance of speed on turf courses hardened by an unquenched thirst for rain, the fact that open maiden races in New York now offer purses of $80,000 to $85,000 and the reality that the best party in town may be going on at a picnic in the backyard. It’s about the price of a cocktail at Siro’s and dinner tabs that rival the price of a used car. It’s about too many turf sprints and the best places to play golf on dark Tuesdays. It’s about finding a seat.

It’s still among the few places where a seersucker suit and bow tie doesn’t get a second look and people dress for the races. It’s about no one being surprised or minding that nothing, including plumbing, works on opening day. It’s about the guy with the Armani suit, yellow Gucci loafers and no socks attracting no attention whatsoever.

The nation’s oldest racetrack, for 40 days, is full of people having fun, dominated by a demographic far younger than the typical racing crowd and more deeply tanned. They are hunched over the Daily Racing Form in the morning at the sidewalk cafes on Broadway and on the porches of the bed-and-breakfasts along Union Avenue. They gather in the evenings to recount the day’s pari-mutuel triumphs and traumas over many cocktails. The daily average attendance at the track rivals the resident population of a town that no one visits only once.

The place has a pulse. It breathes. It makes a horseplayer smile.

Perhaps the people that make Saratoga Springs an obligatory summer destination spend the rest of the year sitting at computers, watching races on television and betting over the Internet, but an understanding of the Spa is at once shared and entirely personal. It demands attendance in the flesh. For the true fans of racing, it provides a renewed sense of what lured them to the track in the first place, a remembrance of things lost and gentler times past.

Hundreds of books have been written about the place but none has fully captured its essence. The experience — and Saratoga is truly an experience as much as a place — is more sensory than literary. Horses great and otherwise move at arm’s length among the gathered fans, a crowd that spans the socio-economic spectrum. The measure of social status, it is said, is access to grass after the perpetual motion of the crowd has by the meeting’s second week left most of the ground bare and hard. Grass survives mainly in the shaded paddock, where horses are sill saddled beneath century-old trees and entry is restricted in theory to owners and horsemen.

Jockeys walk among the patrons en-route to the paddock and upon return from races, an intimacy between participant and spectator replicated nowhere else in a sporting venue. Ramon Dominguez and John Velazquez walk in the footprints of Eddie Arcaro. A sense of elegance and history pervades. This is, after all, the once-bawdy playground of Eastern society and notorious gamblers, ground on which every important thoroughbred has run and scene of many of racing’s most stunning upsets. It is also near the scene of what is widely considered the pivotal battle of the American Revolution but that, for racing folk, is a footnote.

If only temporarily, the real world can be held at arm’s length, all life revolves around horses and the day’s racing. All spirits gathered here are kindred.

This is the sporting life as it should be. Yet, it is a short season always followed by an abrupt return to reality. This time, there is a lingering sense of dread pushed to the background but inevitably confronted: Can racing in New York — even in the throes of unprecedented prosperity, survive the state’s government?

There are, after all, no sure things.

But that is best left until September.