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Friday, November 02, 2007

Final Thoughts

One more word (for now) on the Breeders' Cup. I'll preface these remarks on the criticism of the event that we've heard and read by acknowledging that I'm not entirely objective here - and not because I wrote for the Breeders' Cup site. Rather, it's mostly because of my affection for Monmouth Park and racing in New Jersey in general. I have a long and very happy history of attending races there, mostly at the Meadowlands, but at Monmouth and Freehold as well.

I've always enjoyed going to all three of those tracks, especially the nearby Meadowlands, where I practically lived during the harness meets back in the 80's, and where I got my first taste of multiple-track, full-card simulcasting. The Sunday nights I used to spend there, alone, betting on tracks like Fairmount and Detroit Race Course rate as some of my most degenerate track experiences of all time. (That's a good thing.) To me, the Big M is a first-rate facility in which customer service has always been a priority; it has to have the largest betting machine/window per patron ratio anywhere in the country. (And by the way, it would be more than capable of hosting a program of new Breeders' Cup races that could be run at prime time and which, if promoted correctly, could be a highly effective lead-in to the main event. The Friday thing was cool, but not something, in my view, that is going to do much to increase the event's exposure.)

So, I was really rooting for the event to go well, especially for all the good people who worked so hard for so long to make it a success. Unfortunately, it rained. A lot. There's been a lot of negativity and complaints about the event, both regarding customer service issues at Monmouth, and I guess the plain fact that Monmouth hosted it in the first place. Some of the complaints were valid. There were apparently some problems with the mutuel lines, as documented in articles here and here. I'll add that there was a really bad bottleneck in the grandstand in the vicinity of the winner's circle that appeared to result from some poor placement of various obstacles. But it also seemed to me that the great majority of fans were very happy, and other than some long lines on the 4th floor on Friday (corrected the next day), I myself didn't observe any mutuel problems. I can't really imagine that any large crowd at any track goes 100% smoothly for everyone.

But it really seems to me that some complainers, both in the press and on this site, blamed the track for problems caused by the rain, which it obviously had no control over. Yes, the track was a mess, and aesthetically unpleasing. I'm sorry that some of you had to stand in mud waiting for the train, but hey, there was three inches of rain! I don't think that the auxiliary parking lots at Belmont would be much more pleasant under the same conditions.

One article that really rankled me was the opinion column by Vic Zast on MSNBC.com, in which he called the event "abysmal." I just personally can't see how any objective observer could come to that conclusion, and it seems like a particularly cruel assessment. It's not anyone's fault that the fans suffered through conditions that made the Jersey Shore racecourse a Cape Cod cranberry bog...and who exactly was suffering anyway, other than Vic Zast?

A particularly cheap shot was his pointing out that attendance was down 43.5 percent from last year. Well, duh, we knew the attendance would be lower, simply because the track is smaller, and attendance was to be capped at 45,000! He also writes: "Fillies and Mares with credentials more suited to a Grade II competed in a forgettable $1 million Breeders’ Cup race on Friday." Huh? That was, in my opinion leading up to Friday's races, the closest of the three races that day to a legitimate G1 (it's fair in the aftermath, considering Corinthian's smashing win, to dispute that in hindsight), and it was an eventful race with an exciting finish. "A trainer who accepted a plea bargain instead of facing trial for possession of illegal cobra venom tried to crash the party, but was asked to leave." True....but he doesn't point out that it was the geniuses in Kentucky who agreed to the idiotic deal that allowed him on the grounds, and NJ racing officials who took matters into their own hands and kicked his sorry cheating ass out the door.

And finally, he writes: "TV ratings floundered (again)." True and false. They could be better for sure; but they were up slightly from last year.

I suppose if someone is determined to heap criticism on someone or something, he can always find things to complain about. But while not everything was perfect, they certainly were not as bleak as portrayed by Vic Zast. A little compassion for the good people of Monmouth, New Jersey, and the Breeders' Cup, all of whom put their hearts and souls into making the event a successful one only to be double-crossed by Mother Nature, wouldn't hurt either.

- And one more point here. NYRA has been blasted by fans and competing franchise wannabees for nearly everything that has gone wrong on its watch, despite the fact that a good deal of their financial woes are a result of the business model that exists in the state. Every time we hear about their latest losses or a new (or old) revelation about monies owed, we read the editorials and hear the shouts about how this proves their incompetence. I'm surprised I haven't seen any comments here crucifying NYRA for the absurd tax claims made by the IRS.

But if you think it's fair to blame NYRA for all of that, then I also think it's fair for me to point out, in the context of the franchise debate, this: Nine of the eleven Breeders' Cup winners prepped at NYRA tracks; and another, Kip Deville, was based and trained there. Yes, some of that may be due to the geography and the weather conditions of this year's event, and we may not see the same results at Santa Anita next year. But that has to say something about the quality of the races, the tracks, and the facilities in New York. With all of the lousy state-bred races and crummy cards we've seen at Belmont, and at Saratoga for that matter, the racing program in New York remains the best in the country. That's part of the reason why I maintain that - given the competition - again - given the competition - sticking with NYRA is the best bet for racing in the state. Look at those results from last weekend again, and ask yourself if you really want an Australian bookmaker, or a panel of Joe Bruno- and Eliot Spitzer-appointees running horse racing in this state. My opinion is to stick with the best....and whatever you think of NYRA, racing in New York is indisputably the best, as proven at the Breeders' Cup. And it's that fact which, in my opinion, should be the bottom line in this debate.

12 Comments:

ljk said...

Please just say that the NY graded stakes program is the best in America, and then you'll get no arguments. "Lousy" is not a strong enough word for the diet of NY bred races.

Do you think Eliot was surprised by the IRS audit report? NYRA has known since June. They must have brought it up in the discussions, yet it's not even mentioned in the MOU.

Libby said...

Well written. MSNBC.com needs to rethink who writes an opinion. Vic Zast wasted my time, every word he wrote was biased and leading and incorrect.

NYRA has a lot on its plate but for heavens sake do not give up owning the land, as the quote from Gone with the Wind, "Land tis the only thing worth fightin' for Katie Scarlet O'Hara".

Erin said...

re: Zast article and his complaint about the quality of the horses in the Friday races, it is through the fault of no one that this was true, if indeed one even agrees with this assessment. These new races are ungraded stakes, after all, and to have attracted gr. 2 winners shows support exists from those willing to invest in the future success of the expanded program.
Talk about only seeing the negative. Who cares about Curlin's owners? Did he not notice Curlin himself? Is anyone in this sport because of what owners do in their spare time? Sure, it's not a great for the sport to have associations with criminals, but it takes a really negative outlook to let the things Zast complains of overshadow the incredible athleticism displayed by the horses that ran that day.
The horses still gave us everything they could, because we asked them to. And they delivered their best in spite of everything else.

Brett said...

Totally agree with your view on the Vic Zast column. He must have went 0-15 like I did on the races on Friday and Saturday. Oh well I still thought the event went well.

Anonymous said...

Here Here Alan!!

Eliot was not surprised by the IRS audit, of course he knew about it. It is not mentioned because it is without merit.

If anyone is going to critcize NYRA for their financial woes, how about the sad state of affairs at NYCOTB. Will be joining NYRA in bankruptcy this month despite not being saddled with the cost of putting on the show.

At least the other OTB's are competant enough to appoint only as many FOP's to no show jobs as the budget can sustain.

Anonymous said...

Right on in re NYRA, Alan. Especially given the alternatives.
The fact that so many BC winners were HQ'ed in NY is very positive.
Wonder how much of that has to do with CA synthetic surfaces? I am still concerned about the BC stealing the limelight from NY Grade I's during the season; this is still an issue that NYRA must address, remembering that the BC is a competitor, and mostly that NY racing cannot be relegated to the role of sideshow, or warm up act, to the BC being considered the main event. I just don't think one day of racing does a season make- we need to revise our Super Bowl winner-take-all approach to determining racing champions. /S/Green Mtn Punter

wendyu said...

Great post! I was there for both days and I had a GREAT TIME! I had the cheapest seats and got soaked on Friday - in particular. I had no problems with the lines and got to meet some of the coolest people like Michael Dickinson, the Hennegan Brothers and Pat Day. It was AWESOME! and having the cheapest seats available didn't interfere with getting the coolest photos! Monmouth was a great experience. I say "THANKS" to them.

suebroux said...

I'm very appreciative of your "Final Thoughts", Genius Alan. Perhaps Mr. Zast did not receive a sufficient quantity of Grey Goose in his media goody-bag?!?

And to Wendyu: Fantastic photos of the Breeders' Cup! Wow! But tell me, how does the a Regional Director for the USGA score only cheap seats???

wendyu said...

Suebroux - that's easy to answer! I work for a non-profit!

zarpo said...

Alan,

First of all a job well done on the Breeders cup site.
True racing fans know that rain is always a possibility on any given day. Every one wants a dry day but if it is wet just deal with it.
Even though I live in Canada I have visited the tracks around New York often and I have found the Meadowlands to be the most enjoyable to visit.
I mainly bet the New York circuit. What are your odds that there will be New York racing in January? As an outsider it looks like less than 50/50 to me.

Anonymous said...

NY will not the let the revenue stream stop so there will be racing in January.

Too much bad publicity, even for Albany politicians.

alan said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words. Zarpo - I agree with the subsequent poster that there will be racing in January. Besides the revenue matter, I think that if it comes down to Joe Bruno holding out against Spitzer and Silver, and it becomes apparent, especially to his constituency in Saratoga, that he would be single-handedly responsible for derailing racing, that he'll have to cave.

Then again, I insisted it wouldn't rain on Breeders' Cup day either..