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Friday, July 09, 2010

40 Days and 40 Nights

For anyone who might think that Saratoga is still some kind of cool little boutique meeting, consider this: At 40 racing days, it will run four more dates than the Belmont fall meet which will follow. For those of us who, for whatever reason, are unable to get up there for live racing for much more than a weekend - if that - by the time racing finally returns down here some eight full weeks after it packs up and leaves on July 18, it might very well be Belmont that will feel like something unique.

If there's anything that's good about the extended meet in my view is that it will end, once and for all, any talk of stretching Saratoga even further. I know that some people could watch donkeys run around that racetrack and still go "Oooo, wow, Saratoga." But just you wait; at a relentless six days a week, and with racing quality that, after dazzling I'm sure for the first few days, just ain't gonna be much different than the state-bred and maiden claiming-filled cards we're seeing downstate, y'all are gonna realize that this thing has already been extended way past the max. Even though it's been held at 36 days for awhile now, the meet has in fact been feeling longer and longer as the racing has grown more ordinary in the last few years. This season, by the time we're rolling into September and there's still six days to go, it will feel more overdone than the first 27 minutes of The Decision, and everyone will have had enough. That's right, even you!

Anyway, the whole question of the Monmouth-style shorter race weeks and whether that format is the salvation of racing is the Friday topic of the day for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (TBA), and you can find the links to those, and other racing sites, at the TBA site at And it is the best such website around, and I'm not just saying that because Patrick told us to. Did you know that if go to the PP Search page there, you'll find a search engine to find all of the free past performances available on the internets on any given day?

Unfortunately, time is short and I don't have much to expound much further than I have in the past here on the subject at this time. But here's one thing I'll throw out there: It seems as if the success or failure of the Monmouth experiment is being based on attendance and handle, and that's fine for now. However, a longer term question is the effect of shorter meets on the horsemen. While reduced racing dates may mean reduced expenses for the tracks, the cost of owning horses will stay the same. However, the opportunities to generate revenues will be reduced. Yes, the purses may be higher, but not only will there be less races, but there will be, in theory, far more horses to compete against. It's not surprising to me to see horses trickling back from Monmouth to Belmont. Wouldn't you think that an owner might very well want to race against five horses than 12, even if the purse is somewhat lower?

So I wonder what reduced racing opportunities will do to the ranks of those willing to risk their money in horse ownership. Though, on the other hand and in the long run, perhaps breeding will become far more selective, an outcome which can only be beneficial to the sport. Only a contracted racing program far longer and widespread than what we're seeing at Monmouth will provide answers to these questions.

- Free music at the South Street Seaport last Friday evening, and this may very well be my favorite of all the great such venues in the city during the summer. Besides the laid-back ambiance and the great views, it's the only place I know of where the city's insidious open container laws don't apply. Not sure exactly why, but here one can walk into one of the bars, walk right out with your drink in a plastic cup, and drink to your heart's delight right there outside. Feels kinda weird, we're so conditioned here to that being illegal.

Anyway, another great night of music; two very cool bands on the evening - Woven Bones is a trio from Austin, TX which shrouds their rock in reverb a la early Jesus and Mary Chain and, my favorite current band name, A Place To Bury Strangers. They have a recent release on Hozac Records entitled In and Out and Back Again. Fellow Austinites YellowFever were supposed to complete the bill. But band member Jennifer Moore, who has a restaurant day job, forgot to leave her chef's knife at home before boarding the plane for New York. Er.....not a good idea. The moral here is....don't attempt to bring big knives onto airplanes. OK?

So instead, we got a chance to see Brooklyn's Beach Fossils, whose excellent debut album on Captured Tracks I wrote about here. They didn't disappoint, as perhaps you can tell below. (And note that both bands feature standup drummers....don't recall seeing that even once in the past.)


Anonymous said...

It's not only the extended meet and the larger number of days per week. It's also the number of days where they run more than 9 races. 10, 11, 12 race cards have not been uncommon. Add just 2 races 3 times per week and you are talking about nearly 40 added races being run on top of the added races from the 6th racing day per week.

I'll go there like I do every year for a few weekends. And I'll have a great time like I always do. But these guys have squeezed the lemon dry.

El Angelo said...

Anon beat me to the punch and is exactly right. I feel like every day there's at least 10 races and weekends they make it 12 race cards. Essentially, they're squeezing 48 full days of racing into 40 days.

SaratogaSpa said...

Your post and the comments right on the money. The 11-12 race cards at Saratoga last year were a task to get through. I don't gauge much excitement for the extra days, seems even most people visting are just planning a trip for the 2nd weekend anyway, which should be the first weekend.

Anonymous said...

I'm genuinely sorry for all of you that simply don't seem to understand what is great about Saratoga.

Get up early and go see the horses in the morning. Stay up late and enjoy the people in town. But, most of all, stop whining and enjoy the best thing racing has left.

We are once again on the cusp of the greatest time of every year.

Teresa said...

I agree with anon. While I get weary on those long days and while the quality of racing has certainly changed, very few people of you will be there for all 40 days, so what difference does it make whether on July 23 they race at Belmont or Saratoga?

It gives visitors an extra weekend to spend there; it gives NYRA an extra weekend to increase both handle and attendance (which will certainly be higher at SAR than at BEL); and it gives those of us who love it extra days to spend in the most beautiful racing town in the country (no, I've not been to Del Mar, and yes, I'm biased =)), with friends we see only in the summer, enjoying the racing and everything else that makes Saratoga great.

People complain that racing needs to find a way to increase revenue on its own without slots; isn't this doing just that? And if you don't like 12 race cards, don't stay for the whole day.

El Angelo said...

"Don't stay for the whole day" misses part of my point--the key races that everyone wants to see go off incredibly late in the day on long cards, i.e., 6 or so. It absurd enough that there's a half hour between races, but making the feature race go off so late in the day is just nuts.

Teresa said...

I don't necessarily disagree, El Angelo, but I don't always feel compelled to get there by post time, either, especially on really long days.

Figless said...

A peak at the condition book indicates the racing will not be a whole lot different from Belmont, conditioned claimers, ny bred maiden claimers etc.

Purses appear to be about 10% higher than the currently reduced amounts at Belmont.

As for 10-12 race cards, the vast majority of attendees get up there for a few days each meet and do not mind the extra races, although I must admit the late departure from the tracks makes it difficult to go for dinner at a reasonable hour.

If I rented for the whole month I guess the extended race cards would bother me, but in that case I would just skip a day here and there or just partake in one of the many other interesting attractions in the morning and arrive late for the feature races.

No need to nitpic this meet, and agree with the commenter above that NYRA needs to maximize their revenues so if extending the meet accomplishes that whilng pissing off a few traditionalists so be it.

Anonymous said...

When I first started going to Saratoga in the mid-60's, The Spa was a 24 day boutique meet in August emphasizing the best 2 YO's. Never running in September, only occasionally opening during the last week of July.

It was the exclusivity, the rationing, the short run with a stakes race a day that made The Spa special. The boutique meet feeling began to fade at 36 days and is gone at 40 days.

But NYRA knows they can draw on track to The Spa and cannot to Belmont, so there you are. Alan and other commenters are right, though, at 36 and 40 days there are too many low end claimers, NY bred claimers, etc that water down the overall quality of the meet.

On the plus side, perhaps, it does open it up for more horsemen to run at The Spa, a dream of many horseman in NY and around the country. The new 40 day meet is an equal opportunity meet, not the exclusive province of wealthy owners anymore. /S/greenmtnpunter

Anonymous said...

Yes, quite agree with those who criticize the many 10-12 race cards at The Spa. In the days of the 24 day meet, the 6th race was the feature and it went off at about 4:50 p.m. for the benefit of The Race Of The Week telecast with Win Elliott hosting.

And in those days the first race was at 2 P.M! There were only 9 races in those days so the last 3 went off after the stakes race du jour...seemed more sensible to me. Probably doesn't work for $$$$ wagering and the telly which drive the show these days..../greenmtnpunter

Figless said...

One point that need to be made, with today's expenses it is very difficult to run a short boutique meet and get the top barns to attend. Even KEE's spring meet suffered this year as many barns simply shipped to their summer destination instead of stopping in Lexington on their way north. Many trainers told KEE that the cost outweighed the benefit (and the surface change should not be overlooked, not that KEE would ever admit THAT!).

The extended meet and extra races give the horses a chance to settle in and run a second or even third time at the meet.

But if MTH manages to run another meet like this next year I would expect NYRA to decrease the number of races per day, but not the number of dates. It may even happen this meet, once management sees the results of the first week.

Anonymous said...

Figless you dufus, Keeneland is such a short meet in the Spring, it was no surprise that no one wanted to go there. Try using your brain, dimwit, and tell everyone something that they don't know already.

Figless said...

Appears I have deflected the stalker from the blog in general to just personal attacks on myself.

Since last week I have been deemed to have a "brain injury" and been called a "dufus" and "dimwit".

Takes one to know one.

Steve Zorn said...

Alan's right to worry about whether owners can afford to stay in an industry built on a boutique model. Most small scale owners and trainers make their annual income on the Aqueduct inner track. A lot of us need those 250 race days a year.

Figless said...

Approve Genting, get the VLT money flowing, and we owners will never need to worry about NYRA going to a boutique meeting.

Anonymous said...


Anyone playing Hollywood park Pick 6?


DiscreetPicks said...

Nothing to do with horseracing, but i posted this on another forum earlier, and thought you guys might enjoy:

One thing i've always liked to do in regard to this game is bet the props, because there is always a wide array to choose from, and if you use simple logic in your handicapping, you can often come away with a nice edge.

The way i like to go about it is by examining the entire (offensive) rosters of both teams, in an attempt to determine playing time. Because as you know, there are a tidal wave of substitutions in the game, generally starting in the 3rd or 4th inning. So, that being the case, if you can identify which players might have the most at-bats during the game, you can focus in on props involving those players (particularly if they're matched against someone who might be leaving the game somewhat early). So let's have a look...

NL starting lineup

SS Ramirez
2B Prado
1B Pujols
DH Howard
3B Wright
LF Braun
CF Ethier
RF Hart
C Molina

NL bench

C McCann
1B A. Gonzalez
1B Votto
2B Phillips
SS Furcal
SS Reyes
3B Rolen
3B Infante
OF Bourn
OF Byrd
OF Holliday
OF Young

AL starting lineup

RF Ichiro
SS Jeter
1B Cabrera
CF Hamilton
DH Vlad
3B Longoria
C Mauer
2B Cano
LF Crawford

AL bench

C Buck
1B Konerko
2B Kinsler
2B Wiggington
SS Andrus
3B Arod
3B Beltre
OF Bautista
OF Hunter
OF Swisher
OF Wells
DH Ortiz

Okay. On the NL side, the guy that stands out to me is Martin Prado, with only Brandon Phillips on the bench to replace him. He's also batting very high in the order, so that helps with ab's as well. Incidentally, the guy has been on fire all year.

I would say that Howard might stick around for a while, because the NL lists no DH on the bench, and because the NL is being managed by Howard's own manager. The thing is though, Howard plays first base, and of course that spot is currently occupied by Pujols. And there are two very capable first basemen on the bench for the NL, with Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto. So one of them will likely come in for Howard, with the other one replacing Pujols. You might say that makes only one backup for each of those guys, so perhaps they'll both play a while, particularly Pujols, even though there's 2 guys on the bench behind him.

You would think that Molina might leave pretty early so that the NL could get McCann's power in there, but of course catcher is the last place you'd want to be without a backup, so that could factor in.

I would venture to say that Hanley Ramirez might leave the game somewhat early, with both Reyes and Furcal waiting behind him. Hanley's a huge star, one of the biggest, but Reyes and Furcal are both well-established as you know.

So Prado is the guy that really stands out to me on the NL side.

For the AL, i would expect both Jeter and Cabrera to last well into the game. Jeter has only the first-time all-star Elvis Andrus behind him, and of course the AL side is being controlled by Jeter's own manager. Cabrera has only Konerko waiting behind him, (unless you count Ortiz), and Konerko seems very much like a late-inning guy.

Ichiro always seems to go deep into the game. Almost a given.

The other starter that stands out is Joe Mauer, who in addition to being one of the game's biggest stars, has only Buck behind him. You might even expect him to play the entire game, except that he's currently nursing a sore shoulder (in fact he sat out Sunday's game for the Twins because of that). I still expect him to go deep into the game, but the shoulder problem provides an asterik.

Longoria is a candidate to leave the game somewhat early, with Arod (of all people) waiting behind him. Especially with Yankee manager Girardi calling the shots. There's also Beltre listed at third. The only problem here is that, with the game in an AL park this year, they're using a DH. So Arod could conceivably come in for Vlad, with Longoria remaining in the game.

DiscreetPicks said...

I've just been informed that Jose Reyes is injured and will not play (you New York guys probably already knew that). So upgrade Hanley Ramirez, obviously, as he now only has one backup (Furcal) waiting behind him.

Figless said...

Thanks for this, nice diversion.

The MVP usually plays for the winning team and the NL has really struggled in these games lately.

I'll take a flyer on Robbie Cano.