With the first full week of racing over, here are some random observations:
- NYRA dodged a bullet running on the first day. When last week’s heat wave entered its sixth or seven day, with the Opening Day forecast predicted as the hottest one yet, I was certain racing would be cancelled. The safety of equine and human athletes has been a major focus of NYRA ever since the release last year of a report on that very topic by a blue ribbon panel of experts. And, it was damn hot. But I have not heard of any problems resulting from Friday’s heat, so the extra precautions taken were either effective or not needed. Equidaily.com is carrying a report from the The Sacramento Bee about a two-year old filly collapsing and dying following a race last Thursday in California on a day when the thermometer hit 99, although the cause of death is not yet known.
- NYRA deflected a bullet on the second day. When complaints were made about the name of a food truck on the grounds – The Wandering Dago – NYRA ordered the vehicle off the grounds. I don’t know how it got on in the first place, although it is a slur I have not heard in decades, so perhaps its unfamiliarity allowed it to slip by. But what are these folks thinking? They were banned from the Empire State Plaza, and even though they profess to be of Italian heritage, they don’t know the word is offensive? I thought the goal of most businesses is to make money, so why would you name your business a word that will cause many people to avoid it for that reason?
- Are you as excited as I am about the pending battle for the ownership title? From what I have read, Ken Ramsey and Mike Repole will be slugging it out for bragging rights for whomever emerges as the meet’s leading owner. The jockey title is of legitimate interest because it is a contest among a group of remarkable athletes who go through a lot to stay on their game. The trainer title has nothing to do with horsemanship, instead coming down to who attracts the most well-healed owners. Do we really need to pay attention to a contest between a couple of rich guys? Particularly when one fears they will start running horses near the end of the meet who should not be racing, just so they can satisfy already inflated egos.
- Speaking of Repole, isn’t it time to cease the ridicule of his wife? I understand that if you own a lot of horses, it may be difficult to come up with good names. (I once heard an owner actually complain about this.) But, we now get it. Repole thinks his wife shops too much because we have names such as Stopshoppingmaria, Stopchargingmaria and Unlimited Budget. While there may be some who think that one such name is cute, they are becoming increasingly tiresome. Why doesn’t he instead think of clever monikers for billionaires who spend a lot of money buying and training horses?
- NYRA has been running interesting cards at the Spa. Last year I was critical of the surplus of state-bred and claiming races that had little variety. This year’s cards have been significantly more interesting, and credit should go to NYRA’s Director of Racing, P.J. Campo. As just one example, Wednesday’s 6th race was an “Allowance Optional Claimer” with several stakes winners, including graded stakes, for a purse of $95,000 – and that was not the day’s feature.
- NYRA’s new web site also deserves kudos. It’s clean, crisp and is loaded with useful information.
- Is attendance going to be the story of the meet? If it is, my fear is that it will be a negative one. On Wednesday, a summer day that could not have been more perfect, only 10,119 showed up, a decline of 21% from the same day last year, although Thursday’s attendance bounced back. Through the first six days of racing, four saw a decline from last year, with total attendance down 5%. NYRA’s new CEO Chris Kay has identified women and young girls as an audience that he hopes to attract. Here’s a crazy idea: Why not see if there is a top woman rider somewhere in the country and bring her to Saratoga to make some ads promoting the sport? For a game that too often is portrayed in the media as one of older white men with gambling problems, putting a fresh face on the sport cannot hurt. No rush, however. We still have five weeks and four days to go.