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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Big weekend for NYRA was certainly cause for celebration with total attendance of 25,839 for the three days. That might have been a typical Saturday crowd in the past...and it was only 1600 more than Monmouth had on Father's Day alone. But it will more than do for now. Particularly impressive was the nearly 8,000 who turned out for the first twilight card of the season on Friday; that despite.....due in part to a Billy Joel cover band that played after the races. Just goes to show you....something...not quite sure exactly what. It wasn't about the racing itself this weekend as we enter the usual doldrums between the end of the Triple Crown and the beginning of Saratoga. But if you have a nice place for people to spend the day at the races, they do come, as we see at Saratoga and Del Mar (even though the racing itself is not the same as in the past either), and, sometimes, at Belmont and Monmouth too,

Even in the best of times, the racing at Belmont would start to wilt in July as the weather grows oppressive and the fields thin out as connections await upstate. Of course, July at Belmont has grown even shorter this year with the extra weekend tacked on to Saratoga. With the competition from slots-rich states, and four more days added to a meet which was already at least a week too long, this could be the year that even the most ardent Saratoga devotees concede that enough is enough. I mean, the meet starts on July 23, and they race six days a week; come September 1, there'll still be six days of racing left! When it begins, most NFL training camps will not even be open; by the time it ends, the regular season will be about to begin. That's a lot of state-bred maiden claiming races folks, and those races can be just as tedious downstate as up.

One sport that is probably actually even less popular in this country than horse racing is soccer. Yeah, I know, it's World Cup time, and we're reading the usual stuff we do every four years about how a successful run by the US team could help popularize the sport, but I don't buy that; take a look at hockey in the Olympics for example. Soccer is just not a game which I think will ever appeal on a long term basis to Americans - it's too technical, too slow, not enough scoring, and the clock never stops running. I believe it's far more likely that horse racing will enjoy a renaissance here than soccer ever will.

But if you're like me, and enjoy watching it and would be happy to watch the U.S. team play in the World Cup if the games weren't being played at 9 AM on weekdays, you might enjoy this column by George Vecsey in the NY Times on the team's controversial tie against Slovenia last week. In the space of this single piece, Vecsey not only convincingly backs his case as stated in the column title U.S. Shares the Blame for Feeling Cheated, but it gave me a bit of a feel for some of the dynamics and personalities on and of the team; nice work here.

- Speaking of celebrate, the Celebrate Brooklyn series of free music in Prospect Park is under way, and on an absolutely perfect Saturday night, we saw Bitches Brew Revisited, a tribute concert to Miles Davis' groundbreaking (so it's said....I never really got it) album released some 40 years ago. This was a similar concept to the On The Corner show we saw on the Hudson River last year. Lucky for you, I managed to shoot some crappy video.

Also underway at this time is the Vision Festival, an annual event which features so-called "free" or "avant-garde" jazz, and which is 100% artist-run, with no corporate sponsorship whatsoever. It's the 15th year of this festival, and I actually remember the first one pretty well. On Monday evening, there was a free show at a playground on the Lower East Side, and, getting into the spirit of the setting and the Make Music New York festival on the same day, a group of kids were invited to join in with William Parker's Little Huey Sextet. And as you can see from this video, they attacked their chore with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Then they kicked the little brats off the stage and got down to business with the Roy Campbell Trio.

We then headed west to Le Poisson Rouge where I had actually won a couple of tickets for a contemporary classical show. But when the featured performer, quoting the composer whose work he was about to play, noted that "if music isn't about drama, pathos, and death, then it's about nothing," I knew we were in trouble. Indeed, the spare and apocalyptic composition had me contemplating suicide more seriously then at any time since JP Parise's overtime goal against the Rangers in 1975. Hopefully I'll recover and someday post here again.


El Angelo said...

Alan, I'd love to agree with you on the soccer/horse racing popularity question, but I couldn't disagree more. I know without exaggeration more than 50 people under 35 interested in soccer in general and the World Cup in particular. I know three people under 35 who care about racing beyond the Triple Crown. Soccer will never crack the top 3 of sports popularity in this country, but it's on the rise, especially with the growing Hispanic population. Racing...well, no comment.

ballyfager said...

Someone shoot Belmont Park and put it out of its misery. The cards there, even on Saturday, are an embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

^^ Especially on Saturday!!

steve in nc said...

Don't know about elsewhere, but down in my corner of NC, probably half the boys and 10% of the girls play organized soccer. Way more than little league or basketball.

My son's friends can name far more star soccer players than baseball players. Some have catchy nicknames like "Kaka," which would also be my response to your doubts about soccer's popularity. I will concede that horse racing is more likely to become popular than avant-garde jazz though. (Thanks for the Vision videos. I'd heard about the festival but never been.)

SaratogaSpa said...

I am no soccer guru, but I attended my nephews HS grad party this weekend and all his friends were talking about the World Cup. I also know the Bars around here are making a killing showing the games. Wolf's Biergarten in Albany NY is getting a few thousand per day to watch the games, even at the early hours they are shown.

alan said...

I don't think the World Cup is the right measure in this case. That's like using the Olympics to judge the popularity of hockey. What are the comparative ratings of, say, a Triple Crown race and a Major League Soccer championship game?

El Angelo said...

Also not a good comparison. Most of my friends that follow soccer couldn't care less about the MLS (myself included) and instead follow the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. And the Champions League. Then you have all the international competition like the World Cup, Confederation Cup and Euro Cup.

So if MLS is your baseline, sure, you have an argument. But if you really look at how people in the US watch soccer, which is internationally, it's not even close.

Anonymous said...

MLS is like a claiming track and sometimes owners plunk down money for aging champions.

El Angelo said...

Also, a TC race is a poor comparison, because what percentage of people who tune in are really "racing fans"? The attendance or handle on any Saturday at Churchill is a better indicator.

alan said...

OK, let's say a regular Saturday, but not just Churchill, all sources. And without trying to sound like Jan Brewer, let's for arguments sake take expats from soccer-crazy countries out of the equation. Do you think that more people would be watching soccer, whether MLS or something abroad.... or watching and/or wagering on horse racing?

steve in nc said...

Just wait a generation. In many parts of the country, soccer is the most popular sport to play among kids, even anglos whose families have been here for generations. How many kids ride horses? How many of their dads happily take them to the track and teach them to handicap?

alan said...

>>In many parts of the country, soccer is the most popular sport to play among kids, even anglos whose families have been here for generations.

LOL, OK, maybe you got me on that. Kids have always played soccer though - only takes a ball and a little ingenuity for makeshift goalposts after all. But that has never translated into popularity as a spectator sport in my view.

Anonymous said...

Want to complain about a Belmont Saturday card, and what racing has become in New York? It ain't pretty how the sport and the industry have been affected in the last 10 years. The politicians took care of that. With VLT's approved over 9 years ago, New York was considered one of the leaders in taking action to insure growth in the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry. Monies from the VLT's would go to help bolster purses, and support the breeders and owners. With the state failing to follow through with the VLT's is it any wonder that there has been a filter down effect throughout racing and the industry, affecting Belmont cards and the stallion population? Many top New York stallions have fled the state to go elsewhere, where the racing and breeding industry are being better supported and encouraged than in New York. In the last 4 years, we are down to less than half the top thoroughbred stallions that used to be in New York. Top breeding outfits have closed up altogether, or gone elsewhere. One of the top breeders Sez You recently closed, and sold off everything. The number of horses being bred in New York has dropped drastically. While the poor economy has certainly been a factor in everything connected to the racing and breeding industry, the failure of politicians to allow VLT's at Aqueduct for over 9 years has created a filter down effect that has permeated the thoroughbred racing and breeding industries throughout the state, which by my reckoning has been both criminal and a travesty.

El Angelo said...

In my experience, it's soccer by a wide margin. I do live in New York, so maybe I'm biased. But there are probably more soccer watchers every week in New York than there are people who bet on horse races every week.

Figless said...

There is no reason to believe that recent Hispanic immigrants will stay loyal to their home country's and father's favortie sport any more than those of German, Italian and Irish decent.

The children of immigrants raised here are exposed to superior sports such as American Football and Baseball and soon adopt them as their favorite despite soccer being pushed on them by their parents.

In fact, many parts of Latin America including most of the Carribean Baseball has surpassed soccer in popularity with the native population.

That written, horse racing gets a bad rap, more is wagered on thoroughbreds than any other sport in this country and in many foreign countries, where sports wagering is legal, too.

Figless said...

El Angelo, walk into any sports bar in my neighborhood (NYC) on any given day and the customers are watching and wagering on the races from NYRA being broadcast by OTB, much of it not reflected in the handle if you get my drift.

No one is watching the weekday broadcast of Manchester United.

As for TV the ratings do not reflect it, the Triple Crown races ratings, while nowhere what they were in their heyday, are far superior to the rating for the MSL championship while I think is even topped by the Breeders Cup.

In truth pretty embarassing for the Worlds Game since almost every child raised in America for the last 30 years has played soccer at some level and very few of them have ridden a horse.

I am following the World Cup, almost every match, but I am in the vast minority.

El Angelo said...

Again, the MLS is not a good comparison: few soccer fans really care about it because it's two levels below the top European competition.

Figless, I haven't a clue what neighborhood you're talking about, but I have seen nary an OTB station broadcast any bar in the neighborhoods I frequent. And at any rate, how many of those bettors are under 50?

Figless said...

I must live in the hotbed of racing I guess because every one of the many bars in my neighborhood had NYC Channel 71 or TVG on at least one TV all day.

Yes, many are older as are the vast majority of day customers in any watering hold, so valid point there.

And I think comparing Aqueduct and MSL is a very fair comparison.