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Thursday, January 18, 2007

All (Mostly) Quiet on the Franchise Front

- Things remain pretty quiet on the NY franchise front as all sides gear up for the coming court rulings on the land issue and NYRA's complaints against the state. And speaking of quiet, Empire held their first town meeting in Saratoga last night, and judging from at least the early returns, it seems as if the media coverage of the event was minimal. Nothing thus far in the Albany Times Union, or even the hometown Saratogian! The only paper that I've seen coverage in thus far is the Glen Falls Post Star, and it reports on the expected suggestions for improvements in customer service, backstretch conditions, and Polytrack.

Jeff Perlee was there, and reiterated that Magna's investment is limited to 6% and that there would be no slots at Saratoga. He also told the audience this: "What the Belmont is, and when you see what the Belmont could be, as a New Yorker, it breaks your heart."

Huh? That seems like an odd statement even for Empire. It seems to me that the Belmont has pretty much thrived over the last decade, with two six-figure crowds, both handled with ease by NYRA. Perlee says he wants the race to be like the Kentucky Derby. But in my opinion, he'd have to move the race to Churchill and run it on the first Saturday in May in order to achieve that. The Belmont is what it is - it's the third leg of the Triple Crown, and as such, it's the only race in the series which is directly dependent on events beyond its control - specifically, the result of the Preakness (and other than injuries) - for its popularity in any given year. If the Preakness is won by the Derby winner, you'll likely have 100,000+. If the Derby winner loses or breaks down gruesomely at Pimlico, then the race becomes a natural anti-climax, and you'll do extremely well to get the 61,000 they did in 2006. And under both scenarios, those numbers are up drastically from those of the past.

I'm not saying that more can't be done to try and make the race more of a citywide event, but this is New York, not Louisville, and the vast majority of people here don't give a damn about it, and wouldn't even if Mayor Bloomberg hosted the participants at a City Hall rally, or if the Empire State Building was illuminated in the color of Todd Pletcher's hair. The Belmont Stakes and the Saratoga meet are the two things that New York racing fans can and should be proud of, and they've now both been the targets of surprisingly disparaging remarks by the current second place team in the NY sweepstakes.

On the Excelsior side, the Times Union reports that Gov Spitzer's campaign has returned $110,000 in "excess donations" from Richard Fields. Howard Wolfson, acting in this case as a "representative" for Fields, told the paper that "the contributions were made inadvertently over the limit." Oops. Wolfson is busy these days trying to steer Hillary Clinton left enough to attract liberal Democrats still pissed at her refusal to repudiate her vote in favor of authorizing the war in 2002, without straying too far from the center with an eye towards the general election. Good luck to him with that. In a recent straw poll at the liberal Daily Kos site, Mrs. Clinton garnered only 4% of the vote. Now she's against the Surge, but also opposed to a cutoff of funding. Wolfson gained some attention the other day for his testy statement blasting John Edwards for "negative campaigning" in response to his plea to Congress to: "Speak out, and stop this escalation now. You have the power to prohibit the president from spending any money to escalate the war - use it."

OK, now I'm getting off topic, so I'll stop. For now.


30for60 said...

I agree Belmont Day is nothing to be ashamed of especially these days. Want to make Belmont Day more interesting and keep our stars around longer? Have a race in the card for four year olds going the same 1.5 mile distance. Make it a $1 million dollar (G1) purse and offer a bonus structure for for horses that ran the Belmont the year before that is topped by a horse running 1st in each race winning a $5 million bonus. Call it the Cal Ripken Jr. Stakes , or if that is too cute then maybe just the Ironman Stakes.
Andrew Young

Late Scratch said...

I was at the Saratoga forum and I don't remember Perlee ever comparing the Belmont Stakes to the KY Derby. I thought he was referring to the conditions at Belmont Park generally, particularly the backstretch. I have seen better accomodations in prisons.

As for local coverage, the Saratogian had a lengthy article that apparently wasn't posted (pun intended) on line. In fact, the reporter (Paul Post) actually participated in one of the groups.

Green Mtn Punter said...

Alan, I still say that the Belmont Stakes should re-take the crown from the Derby. The numbers say the Belmont is a more important race in determining an Eclipse Award, success in the handicap division, and at stud. The racing associations just gave the Derby a pass in building up the Derby mystique, they thought the Derby Mystique was good for the sport. That was then, this is now: With the VLT revenue, NY should aggressively market the Belmont as an "event","the place to be",every bit as equal to the Derby, if not superior. Same for the Travers but only as a TV event. And when NY eliminates the Breeders Cup series and returns the championship races with BC size purses to their historic and rightful place at Belmont Park, then I will be satisfied! Much as I dislike the Empire crowd, they were at least giving lip service to making the Belmont Stakes king of the hill once again, "the" toughest triple crown race to win, the real prize that everybody wants to win after the mint juleps wear off.