With the third full week of racing over, here are some random observations:
- Chad Brown on grass. Has Chad Brown become the top turf trainer in the country? He had six wins on the weeds this week, including a three-bagger on Sunday. (Mike Maker had a similar turf triple on Friday.) Brown’s prowess is not new this year. At the 2012 meeting, 24 of his 29 wins were on the green, and he had a remarkable winning percentage on grass of 36, more than twice his percentage on dirt.
- Oklahoma viewing stand is a nice addition, but why is it only open during the meet? The viewing stand by the training track opened last week and is accessible during the morning training hours But it will not be open from April until opening day, and again from Labor Day to November, when Oklahoma is open for training. I understand the safety considerations behind limiting access to a place that can have riderless horses running around, but there must be an inexpensive way for local Saratogians to enjoy a cup of coffee at the track on a brisk October morning. They have to put up with a lot of inconvenience during the meet, so it would be a nice quid pro quo by NYRA.
- Be careful what they name you. I have often been amazed by the names of horses who end up being gelded. This week’s nominees are Key Decision and Freud’s Pleasure. (My wife thinks this is a uniquely male obsession.)
- This is what passes for racing journalism in Albany. I was dismayed last year when Governor Andrew Cuomo was able to seize control of one of New York’s signature industries without a peep by the mainstream media. The Times Union of Albany has continued its formulaic critique of NYRA – this time it’s the purportedly “shady and slipshod history.” Editor Rex Smith wrote that NYRA’s new CEO Chris Kay is “smart and honest, traits often lacking in racing industry leaders.” In my brief exposure to Kay, I would say he is smart, but have no idea about honesty other than to say I assume he is, having no reason to think otherwise. I wonder what Smith would say if a journalist wrote, “Boston Globe editor Bill Jones is smart and honest, traits often lacking in capital city newspaper editors.” He would, of course, be justifiably outraged because such a statement was not supported by factual examples – a “trait” if you will, one expects from responsible journalists. Incidentally, do those wondering about the best way of attracting new fans – and this includes NYRA’s leadership – consider that the constant criticism of the sport’s honesty may have a deleterious impact? It’s one thing if the comments are based on facts, but the Times Union is notorious for stating conclusions about racing without any factual back-up.
- Speaking of Kay, is he becoming the new Billy Fuccillo? Last week I wrote that it was nice to see Kay MC the ceremony for John Velazquez’ breaking the record for wins by a jockey. Since then, it seems one cannot watch a Saratoga event without seeing him. He has become huuuugely ubiquitous – not a bad trait for the guy in charge.
- Timing is everything. Last week I intended to write about one of my all-time favorite books on racing. I wanted to quote from its opening chapter, but could not locate the book in my “library,” sizable chunks of which are still in cardboard boxes. The book is Racing Days, a collaboration by outstanding photographer Henry Horenstein and writer Brendan Boyd. Fortunately, that opening chapter is reprinted in a blog post by Peter Fornatale, referenced in the essential racing web site equidaily.com. Entitled “Perfection,” it captures the Saratoga experience better than anything I have ever read.
- Attendance update. It must be that August thing. It was down seven percent compared to the same period in 2012 after the second week, but now is down only three percent.
- Tom Durkin is employee of the month. Track announcer Durkin is required to read tributes to NYRA’s employees who do something remarkable – today it was returning someone’s wallet. While I think employers should give recognition to valued employees – and by “recognition,” I mean including some coin. But is it really necessary to make the announcements (today it was twice) to the entire world?
- Permanently Disabled Jockeys: Earlier this week I wrote about the remarkable decrease in racing equine fatalities at NYRA’s tracks. Compared with the same period in 2012, there were two catastrophic injuries compared with ten last year. As I watched Thursday’s first race, my heart sank when a horse went down, throwing her rider. The mare was able to walk back to her barn, but steeplechase jockey Archibald Kingsley, Jr. had to be removed in an ambulance. According to The Saratogian, he may have suffered a concussion. This Monday evening at the Vapor Night Club at the harness track, there will be a karaoke contest among the jockeys to raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. VIP tickets are $150, regular ones $75, and contributions can be made at the group’s web site. See the site for complete info.