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Monday, September 19, 2005

Build It and (maybe) They Will Come

- I wasn’t really trying to be gloomy in my post yesterday, but if it came across that way, it wasn’t because I didn’t cash a ticket when I went to Belmont Saturday, but rather, it was because I was at Belmont Saturday, period. I feel as if I’m personally witnessing the death of horse racing as a live spectator sport in New York, and the process seems to have accelerated with the return from Saratoga. Even if there weren’t a total of seven graded stakes races on the first two Saturdays of the meet, you’d expect far more than the crowds of 6,217 and 7,385 that showed up.

Friends of New York Racing have suggested slot machines for Belmont, and it would do the place a service just by taking up some space and making the track smaller. The plant was built to regularly handle crowds in excess of the total attendance for an entire week nowadays, and its size has become a curse. I’d guess that 75% of the place is virtually unused except for one day in the year. There is no energy in the place whatsoever; it’s hard to find more than a handful of people in any single spot. Throw in, as on this past Saturday, some short fields and poor betting races, no turf racing, a main track on which closers didn’t seem to have a chance (and that’s from someone who is more often than not skeptical of track bias claims), and stakes races that fell completely apart like the Matron and Futurity did, and a day at the track can become downright dull and depressing.

So, I’m starting to think that maybe Frank Stronach is right. Perhaps we need to build grand entertainment centers to attract people with more popular forms of entertainment. Get the people there, and then it’s up to the ingenuity of management to direct people, both newbies and those that may have gone astray and decided to spend their money in a more responsible way, to the racetrack. In the restaurants, show races on a big screen; give people a horse to root for, to win a glass of wine and a free bet or two at the track. In the movie theater, show a race, tell people to pick a horse, and listen to the crowd cheering for their choice – even if you’re not giving anything away! As I’ve mentioned before, check out the crowd at a ballgame when they show those silly subway or bobblehead races on the video screen. People just like races; it’s human nature. So what a natural fit this should be!

Build it and, maybe, they will come. They sure ain’t coming out now, so we might as well try something else, and something other than slots. Slot machines' benefit to attendance is more indirect, coming from larger purses and the resulting bigger fields. That can help, as it did at Saratoga Harness, where a big crowd witnessed a night of state-bred championship races this past weekend.

But with the general expansion of legal gaming, racing can’t depend on slots and needs to do something bold. Just maybe, in his bumbling way, Frank Stronach has the right idea.

- Those two year old races at Belmont on Saturday, a G1 and a G2, attracted a total of 13 horses, while the Lassie and Futurity at Arlington drew 9 horses apiece, and the juvenile races on Kentucky Cup day drew 10 and 8.

Folklore’s 14 length win in the Matron is going to look good in the Form on Breeders Cup day, and should attract a lot of money. If that’s the case, then there’s at least one favorite I’ll be betting against that day. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a nice, consistent filly, and I had her in the Spinaway when she ran second. But as I watched from midstretch as she came home widening her lead under urging, I took a peek at the rest of the field, and they looked like a bunch of drunken sailors, absolutely staggering towards the wire. That field was finished, and it was more a matter of everyone stopping cold then Folklore sprinting away from them.

India hit her head when the neighboring horse broke through the gate, and John Velasquez said that she “ "got all shook up there. I knew we should have scratched right then..” [Bloodhorse] Steve Asmussen’s previously unbeaten Halo Humor was absolutely dead on the board and ran that way; the two California shippers had been no match for Wild Fit in the Del Mar Debutante and didn’t inspire any excitement, at least for me. You can bet that Folklore will be facing a more contentious bunch in the Juvenile Filly, not the least of whom could be Pletcher’s Adieu, who beat Folklore in the Spinaway

The only suspense in the two juvenile stakes was whether Broken Vow would beat the loose horse who sprinted to the lead after dumping Javier Castellano. Those two were 9 in front of the rest of the field; and second place finisher Changing Weather was 4 ½ ahead of 21-1 shot Dixiecrat for third. Once highly regarded Master of Disaster was around 25 lengths back in 5th, ugh.

Throw in favorite Smokey Glacken’s dominant (bias-aided?) win in the Floral Park, and it was a day of stakes races that were as dull as the atmosphere in the grandstand.

- Sorcerer’s Stone was very impressive in taking the Arlington-Washington Futurity. He'd been unbeaten going 4 ½ and 5 ½ furlongs and handled the stretch out to a mile with aplomb, moving to the lead while in hand on the turn and throwing down final eights of 12 seconds each to win by 8 ½ in a stakes record 1:35.16. He’s a son of Gulch out of a Slew O’Gold mare, trained by Patrick Byrne; he’s a half brother to stakes placed Holiday Thunder. Patrick Biancone’s highly touted Grand Survival was even money off a maiden win and was up the track, c’mon!

But Biancone got the money in the G3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile with Stream Cat (Black Minnaloushe), who I raved about in this post after he won his last on the turf. This race was on the dirt, but he showed the same powerful closing kick in coming from last and besting Asmussen’s highly regarded and favored Cab.


Anonymous said...

Belmont is still a great place to go, even if the crowds are small.

QQ said...

Speaking of crowds, I've been trying to track down how attendance is calculated at Mountaineer Race Track. According to one of the security guards, they count the cars on the track parking lot and multiply by the estimated number of passengers. Since there are some slots in the trackside clubhouse, attendance figures probably do include some slots-only folks. I suspect that there's at least one horseplayer per car, and that's why they pass the slots palace and park at the track. Often there'll be a group of men watching the races while their wives play the slots.

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