With the second full week of racing over, here are some random observations:
- Allen Jerkens and Bill Mott provide the training highlights. In what has to be one of the more remarkable streaks in racing – along with being one of the most meaningless – Bill Mott again saddled a winner on his birthday. According to Tom Durkin it was the 15th time he has done it, and he needed to start horses in five races on Monday, finally winning with his last chance. Allen Jerkens only ran one on Mott’s birthday, in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap. The heavy favorite in the field was Dance to Bristol, coming off five consecutive wins and on her way to being considered one of the top sprinting fillies in the country. Jerkens’ filly was also on a winning streak, although her most recent win came in an optional claiming $25K/NW1X. She was not in for a tag in that one, but was running for a price earlier this year and had broken her maiden at $16K in October. There was only one reason to pick her jumping up to a graded stake, and it was Jerkens and his reputation as The Giant Killer. Well, he almost did it again, with Classic Point trying to wire the field at 14-1 before being caught at the finish by the chalk. Jerkens is an institution at the Spa, and is that truly rare individual about whom I have never heard a negative thing.
- Quote of the week: “They got you by the stalls.” This was said by the head of a mid-Western horsemen’s group in support of a rule that would prevent the management of race tracks from retaliating against advocates for the trainers. He argued that he was moved from a desirable barn to a considerably less appealing one because of his advocacy efforts. The comment was made at a Tuesday meeting of the Model Rules Committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
- Don’t throw out the inserts from Sunday’s Times Union observing the 150th anniversary. They are filled with interesting articles and historical facts that are worth reading at your leisure.
- Some apostasy on Pick 6 carryover days. The conventional wisdom is that the small bettor should not play on carryover days, particularly big carryover days such as Monday’s. The thinking is that the heavy hitters are going to come in with unaffordable large tickets and the smaller wagerer cannot compete. That is true, of course, if you know that there will again be the long shots that caused the carryover in the first place, and as a smaller wagerer you cannot afford to spread too deeply. I have long thought the opposite. Because the big bettors will be going deep in most races to pick up those long shots, they will be pouring money into that day’s betting pool.. If moderate or short-price horses end up winning, all that money by the heavy pounders is going to inflate the value of the Pick 6. Monday’s pool ended up being over a million dollars. Three favorites won, a second choice at 4-1 came through, and the two biggest prices were 7-1 and 8-1. The result? $53,212.00. You won’t see that on a non-carryover day.
- Two exhibits worth checking out: There is no shortage of equine art during the meet, ranging from the high end at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion to what is, shall we say, less high end. Then there are the water colors of R.C. Ewell, a fixture in the morning at both the main track and Oklahoma. He has an exhibit at the Visitors Center on Broadway opposite Congress Park through August 30. It is a short drive to the Brookside Museum at 6 Charlton Street in Ballston Spa, but the photography exhibit is worth it. The artists are backstretch workers who worked on a project last year and were displayed at the Racing Museum. That exhibit runs through August 24.
- I was glad to see NYRA’s CEO show up after Johnny V’s record-breaking ride. Velazquez, of course, was the jockey highlight of the week, breaking the all-time record for wins held by Jerry Bailey with his 694th, a number that is somewhat mind-boggling considering that he is only 41 years old. NYRA’s new CEO Chris Kay was there to MC the brief ceremony. This is, of course, something that would not have been noteworthy by any prior CEO, but Kay works for an Administration that does not care about racing.
- Attendance continues to decline. After the first week, attendance was down five per cent from the same period last year. Now it is down seven per cent, although a good portion of that can be attributed to only 47,000 showing up for the first giveaway as compared to 51,000 last year. Still, nine of the twelve racing days have seen a decline from the same day last year. It isn’t the weather. Aside from the scorcher on opening day, we have been experiencing perfect summer weather, with only an occasional shower. Attendance figures to increase when we hit August. I guess “the August place to be” is a catchier slogan than “the 40 days, not counting Tuesdays, that ends on Labor Day place to be.”
- The Fire: There was a bad fire on Woodlawn Avenue in Saratoga Springs that displaced about 18 backstretch workers who lost all their belongings. These are the folks who don’t garner the attention or headlines of the jockeys and trainers, but who every bit as essential to ensuring that we have racing to follow. It’s is a tough life. They don’t get paid much, work long hours, and have to travel from track to track as a normal part of their job. My experience has been that almost all of them are doing it because they love horses and the sport. Teresa Genaro’s Brooklyn Backstretch.com describes the efforts to provide some assistance to these folks. The Recreation Center is across the street from the track on Union Avenue, between the main Union Avenue gate and the Northway entrances.