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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Is More

- The line forms at the jail cell to the right. Lots of luck with that.

- A couple of people asked about Highland Cat, so I'll mention again that I, and most of the partners, sold out to another partner that wanted to bring him down to Florida. So they did, and he promptly won his first race for them, on a sloppy racetrack. Then, last Friday, he stepped up to 25 claimers on the grass, and ran third. That show spot earned only $1500, and could be worth less with the purses there being cut by Churchill Downs, a move which has really ticked off the horsemen there.

But slots could be on the horizon there, pending the results of a referendum in Miami-Dade County to be held on January 29. And reports that the usual battle lines are being drawn. Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Crist is expected today to announce an agreement with the Seminole Tribe which will not only allow it to operate the Class 3 machines granted to the racetracks, but table games as well.

The agreement means that the tribe will pay taxes on gambling revenue to the state, to the tune of some $100 million per year, and it beats, by one day, the deadline after which the tribe could have proceeded with the upgraded slots on its own without paying a penny to the state. That's because of the federal law which requires that tribes be granted the same level of gambling as available elsewhere in each state. What the tribe got in return for agreeing to the taxes is exclusive rights to blackjack and baccarat. And with their Hard Rock Cafe operating in Hollywood, this cannot be good news for the nearby tracks, especially Gulfstream, already laboring with a state-low daily take per machine of just $76. According to the Bloodhorse piece, Pompano Park rakes in $211, and the old Hollywood dog track $176. Why there is such a big disparity I honestly can't even guess.

- The Meadowlands thoroughbred meeting ended on Saturday, but it only takes them a few days to prepare the track for the trotters. The meet opens with a bang with the eliminations for the Breeders' Crown, the finals for which will be conducted at the Big M on Nov 24. The top three-year olds in the sport will all be there this Saturday, with the spectacular Hambo winner Donato Hanover going for his 20th win in a row (!); and the star sophomore pacers Tell All, Always A Virgin and Southwind Lynx will vie for spots, the latter two going head to head in their elimination heat.

A couple of points here relating this to the T-breds. Though most of the entries will qualify for the finals since only 14 or 15 will be competing for the trot and pace respectively, the winner of each heat gets to choose its post position for the final. We certainly saw the importance of post position in the recent Breeders' Cup; and a post position incentive for the BC Challenge races would add some additional intrigue, and even perhaps persuade a reluctant trainer or two to enter their horse in a race they might be inclined to skip, given the way some runners are virtually eliminated in the post position draws for the big fields.

Also, we often talk about the importance of rivalries in our sport, and how the trend towards sparse campaigns makes that all but impossible. But on the harness side, these top pacers and trotters race against each other all the time. Just to play devil's advocate here, I wonder if that in fact diminishes the spectacle of the Breeders' Crown; whether it feels like just another battle, except for more prestige and money, like when the familiar PGA roster meets in the Masters or US Open?

There is something to be said about the intrigue of the unknown when horses meet for the first time. I was, and still am, horrified by interleague play in baseball because, amongst other things, it eliminates that special feeling I'd get when teams met for the first time in the World Series. With no history to go on, you never really knew what to expect, and it created a sense of anticipation unlike in any other sport. When the Mets and Yanks met in the 2000 Series, it could have felt like a truly once-in-a-lifetime event. But with the teams playing six games each year, it was, at least to me, not nearly as special as it could have been. As time goes on, I wonder if fans can even distinguish in their minds those Series games from all the regular season games between the teams we see each season. Similarly, there's a special feeling when horses of note meet for the first time, one which I imagine, without following the sport too closely, is not present for the Breeders' Crown.

Having said all that however, on balance, frequent rivalries have to be a good thing for a sport starving for recognition, and there's always the anticipation of the three-year olds facing older for the first time, or showdowns between American and European stars. So while there's something to be said in this case for less is better, I'll still come down on the side of more is more, even as we grow used to seeing less and less.


Sunny Jim said...

Hi Alan -

Just a note from a new fan of this blog, as of Breeder's Cup day, where I followed some links to your live blogging that day. I have been going back and reading through a lot of the archives since then. Your blog is nothing if not voluminous.

You are at your most prolific when you get into your little rants about the horse racing industry. I also like that you are not afraid to put a political opinion or two out there.

Your best post, in my opinion, is the one called 'Let It Ride', which you have linked right there at the top of the page. It's a great tribute to live racing attendance, very inspired writing. You should find some more of whatever coffee or juice you were drinking that day.


Sunny Jim said...

And I forgot, thanks for covering New Jersey racing every now and then, which (depending on who you talk to) is either in a little decline these days or on life-support.

The Meadowlands meet was good, but short, and harness racing pretty much rules the place for the rest of the year. I ask people I see there a lot why they attend the harness races and not the thoroughbreds, which is of course the truer form of racing. They tell me it's easier to follow the horses, and I guess they have a point.

Opening weekend, for example has the Breeder's Crown eliminations, and the same horses will run the following weekend. Donato Hanover has an incredible winning streak, and several other two-year-olds have long win streaks on the line as well.

With thoroughbred racing, I think the average fan here in Jersey has an easier time following jockeys and trainers rather than specific horses. There is a terrific group of young jockeys - Jose Lezcano, Eddie Castro, Alan Garcia, Rajib Maragh - all still in their early
20's, whose talents were on display all summer at Monmouth and then at the Meadowlands.

And I was there the night Herb McCauley made his first appearance on a horse in nine years. I was amazed at the number of rail birds - not exactly known for their good manners and charm in the close paddock quarters at the Meadowlands - who gave Herbie a rousing cheer when he was announced in the post parade. McCauley himself came back smiling like a little kid after the race, even though his horse finished fifth. You could tell he was delighted to be back doing what was in his blood to do.

Pretty remarkable that a 50-year-old would go through all the rigors of conditioning to get back into riding shape like he did.


Teresa said...

Interesting conversation about rivalries. The reconfiguration of the NHL schedule leaves me cold: I'd much rather see the Rangers playing some Western Conference teams than watch them play yet again the Devils or the Flyers or the Penguins. It seems to me poorly conceived.

On the other hand, one of the great things about racing this year was seeing Hard Spun, Curlin, and Street Sense go at each other time and again. Similarly (to a lesser extent), Lear's Princess, Octave, Rags to Riches. I think that perhaps even more in an environment when the opportunity for such rivalries is short-lived, they add a compelling element to racing. Unlike the NHL, where I can count on seeing the Devils visit the Garden multiple times year, after year, after year.

And yes, I'm damned glad we beat them again tonight.

alan said...

Sunny Jim - Thanks so much for reading, and taking the time to go through those archives! I wrote that post sitting in the "work room" of the Sheraton hotel in Eatontown, so I guess it was the OJ. Actually hoping to make it to the Meadowlands for those three-year old elims on Saturday night.

Teresa - I have the same argument with my season ticket partner - he likes seeing the division rivals over and over, while I'd like to see the Western teams at least once a season. On the other hand, as with my baseball example, it does create some extra intrigue in the Finals when teams that haven't played each other match up. It's a conundrum! But in any event, what a shot by Staal, eh?? :-)