Here are some random observations, or how did things turn south so dramatically at the end of the meet?
Maybe it’s Wayne Lukas who should be going to the post-race spit barn: The Hall-of-Fame trainer seemed to be on the downside of an illustrious career not that long ago when he could not buy a stakes win. He had a remarkable streak of something like two years without such a victory. Now he pulls down two of the most prestigious races for three year-olds - the Preakness and the Travers - with different colts, and then caps it off on his 78th birthday by winning the Hopeful. The Travers featured one of the most exciting finishes in my memory. With the top four finishers getting Beyers of 106 or 107, is it possible that this crop of three-year olds may be much better than they’ve been given credit for? It was certainly one of the highlights of the meet, but was followed promptly by some of the absolute low points.
New York’s success in reducing horse fatalities came to a screeching halt: Less than 24 hours after the Travers, two horses from the same race had to be euthanized. That equaled the number of catastrophic injuries for the entire Belmont spring meeting. On the very next day, a horse suffered a fatal injury while training. In that incident, exercise rider Raymond Bulgado suffered a broken neck and was still hospitalized the last I heard. On Wednesday, another horse died following a training accident. Finally, on Friday, the popular Saginaw was euthanized after a racing breakdown. The three racing fatalities brought the number for the meet to five, matching last year’s total.
Since we’re on a negative roll, let’s have an allegation of cheating in the Travers: Eric Guillot, trainer of Travers runner-up Moreno, claimed that the winning jockey used an electrical stimulator to get Will Take Charge across the line first. He filed a complaint with the State Gaming Commission that then turned it over to the State Police. Guillot’s camp claims the evidence is indisputable, although differing news accounts have them with different allegations. One source has the jockey dropping the device; another has him tucking it under the saddle cloth during the gallop out. Of course, this could be the result of bad reporting and not conflicting versions. Obviously I do not know what happened. Nor do the numerous sources who have weighed in with their opinion, including the insightful observation that Lukas changed jockeys before the race - ignoring the fact that the new rider was the sixth jock Lukas had used in the colt’s 12 races. The race replay can support your belief that something did happen, although we have been down this road in the Preakness 10 years ago and an even earlier Derby.
It doesn’t bother me that Guillot filed a complaint with the Gaming Commission – that is the right thing to do if you think you were cheated. What bothers me is that he went public with the allegations. It’s a criminal investigation now, not a matter that will be put to a vote. The sole effect of going public with allegations that have not been proven is to discredit a sport that doesn’t needed unwarranted bad publicity - that’s why we have The New York Times. One would like to think that someone who makes his living from racing would have a sense of responsibility and not unnecessarily drag it through the mud.
If the allegations turn out to be true, Tom Durkin’s stretch call will go viral: “… Will Take Charge with a late surge….”
Be sure your camera battery is charged if Chris Kay is in the area: When Kay accepted the job of NYRA’s CEO and President, he acknowledged having much to learn since his only prior exposure to racing came more than 40 years ago. In his educational efforts he must have discovered the archives of Post Time USA, because no one has been in more photographs in such an abbreviated time period since the days of Gino Stevens.
NYRA’s leadership does not inspire confidence that New York racing is in capable hands: At the Board meeting held on August 28, Kay dominated the meeting by reading a prepared statement for about 40 minutes that included many video clips, most of which featured Chris Kay. For someone who boasted about his experience as a litigator at his first press conference, it came off as somewhat of an embarrassment. Board Chairman David Skorton took the opposite tack - his report barely lasted two minutes. Skorton is appearing to lose whatever interest he had in New York racing. His sole objective is to deliver Andrew Cuomo’s goal of eliminating VLT payments as a step to reprivatizing the franchise. While this is certainly a significant matter deserving of a full discussion, Skorton wants to conduct it in secret, and has scheduled only one Board meeting over the next six months.
Attendance: NYRA had to “audit” the attendance figures before releasing them publicly? They could have added up the numbers reported each day in the Daily Racing Form (which gets them from NYRA), which is what I have been doing. Attendance was down slightly as was handle. Interestingly, there were two big drops on the weather-impaired days - Opening Day and Closing Day - but the biggest drop took place on the four giveaway days. Of the total decline of 33,000 almost 12,000 were reduced spinners on the four Sundays.
Spa Christmas shopping doesn’t have to end with the beer steins: For the Saratoga racing devotee on your list, consider the documentary produced by Albany’s WMHT, The Track at Saratoga. The DVD is only available with a $60 contribution to this essential PBS/NPR affiliate. You can also pick up additional copies for - I think - another $12 per DVD. You can view an online version to get a flavor for this entertaining one-hour special.