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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Problems Big and Small

- With the Travers out of the way and the Hopeful moved from its usual spot on the last weekend to Travers Day, the Saratoga meeting would have faded into irrelevancy even if it and everything else wasn’t overshadowed by the events in New Orleans and surrounding areas. The meeting closed with a whimper, both aesthetically and in terms of business. The only Grade 1 race on the last weekend, the Forego, fell apart and produced a confounding result. The last week produced crowds of 7,700 and 10,000, and the only crowd over 20,000 during the last week was for the T-shirt giveaway on Sunday, and we know the announced figure of 48,000 was way-overinflated.

Average attendance was down by 3.17% and total handle off by 5.47%; the latter was in line with expectations after NYRA cut off ten rebate shops, but perhaps can be partly attributed to field sizes that decreased by 6% from last year, according to the Albany Times-Union. So much for the new racing secretary idea. But the attendance decline is particularly alarming given the extraordinary weather the area enjoyed. The dry weather allowed a record total of 121 turf races to be run. Even on most of the days that the track was wet and the turf racing off, the rains had come overnight and shouldn’t have detracted too much from the crowd.

NYRA officials tried to spin the meeting as a success, with Charles Hayward telling the NY Times:

"We were up in on-track handle this year with all the industry factors, the price of gas and everything else. So from my perspective, I would call this meet an unqualified success."
But when you consider the horrible numbers from the preceding meets at Belmont (attendance was down 15.17 percent and total handle fell 11.2 percent) and Aqueduct (declines of 10.4 percent in handle and 18 percent in attendance), there’s a definite trend here and it ain’t good.

- But that of course is just small potatoes compared to the situation down south. Churchill Downs reports that it has accounted for less than half of its Fair Grounds employees. The company said it planned to provide pay and benefits to those employees through the month of September and would evaluate whether to further extend pay and benefits to those employees beyond the month. [Thoroughbred Times]

Evangeline Downs raised more than $60,000 with its special fund-raising card conducted on Sunday night, and the track GM said that off-track figures were still coming in and Louisiana horsemen also committed their earnings from the night to the cause. [TT]

Frank Stronach, who we often beat up in these pages, has made an extraordinary contribution to the cause. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that he has spent around $3 million to airlift victims selected by FEMA and the Red Cross to his training center at Palm Meadows in Florida.
This will bring the total [number of evacuees] to approximately 300, although the number may yet be increased to 400, and all will be given medical attention and new clothes courtesy of Palm Beach residents, and then taken to Magna's new training facilities at nearby Palm Meadows. There they will be housed in facilities intended for grooms and thoroughbred trainers, fed at a brand-new state-of-the-art cafeteria and, some time within the next two months, returned to Louisiana to live in a 240-hectare trailer park yet to be built.
"If you have feelings," [Stronach] says, "you have to start thinking. If you come from the working class, you might say, I can send $100 to the Red Cross, and that's fine, but you also have corporations that could do something special.

"The great thing about a large company that makes a profit is that you have the capability to jump in and be helpful -- right away." [Toronto Globe and Mail]
Actually, I don't know when was the last time Magna did make a profit, but we won't quibble with the man in this case. And there is an effort underway to rescue horses as well.
"Currently more than 300 horses remain to be reached in the New Orleans area that we know of.....Teams continue to be dispatched with law enforcement accompaniment as logistics fall into place for each rescue effort. We've basically been prioritizing them by where we can go physically, and by which horse's we know are in the most immediate need of rescue based on their circumstances. We still have horses that are up to their necks in water. It's a challenge, because the logistics of each circumstance vary according to their location and condition." [Bloodhorse]


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