Steve Crist wrote on his Cristblog prior to Saturday's card:
It's a great Alabama showdown, but the rest of the Saratoga card? Yeesh.I might have said the same up until pretty recently; but these days, when I go to the track, I wanna gamble. A six horse field with two overwhelming favorites; if I was there or playing on Saturday, the Alabama might have been the race that I was least interested in. Blind Luck vs. Devil May Care? Yeah, whatever.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch where the Alabama Day card includes two statebred maiden races, a $20k maiden claimer, and three conditioned-claiming races.Well, I love the conditioned-claiming races, they're some of the most bettable races on the cards these days. Ample form, class and distance moves, trainer angles; plenty of juice. On Saturday, the 4th race wasn't too great with six horses and a winning even money; but the 7th had a ten horse field with a (redboard alert) suspicious dropdown favorite from a cold barn who finished out of the money. (A race with a big field and a vulnerable favorite is just as good if not better than one with a 4-1 favorite, so we shouldn't reflexively complain when horses are odds-on. They often present opportunity, whether subsidizing the odds on others, or serving as a welcome "free" marker in the multi-race bets.) The 9th was also a solid ten horse field, with co-favorites at 5-2.
Additionally, to note nowadays that a card features maiden claiming races is no longer necessarily a terrible thing, at least to me. Though I've always railed against those races and avoided them religiously, I must say that I find that the ones for turf have become eminently playable and formful. The 11th on Saturday, which Crist summarily dismissed, was a highly competitive ten horse field which produced a (redboard alert) fair payoff on the second choice 2-1 Recharged, from Linda Rice. (I've always believed that you can generally get good prices on favorites in the final race because bettors are shopping for prices in an attempt to get out.) The two state-bred maiden races that Crist mentioned had fields of nine and 11, and not a horse under 5-2.
You might be thinking that I've lowered my standards and have become accepting of mediocrity. But I'd say that I'm merely adjusting to reality. The quality of the races at Saratoga when it comes to class will never be what it was; that's a fact. To mope about that is to do so about Sunday doubleheaders or civil political debate. But the racing can still be compelling to handicap and thrilling to watch even if the horses are for sale.
Or, I guess you might be thinking that I'm no longer a fan, just a gambler. And that might be true to a point. To be honest, I just don't find following the stakes divisions to be that interesting anymore given the nature of racing in the 21st century, as discussed here ad nauseum over the years, and the way that the Breeders' Cup has reduced the once climactic fall season to a series of preps.
And if that makes me a degenerate gambler rather than a true racing fan, that's fine with me. After all, it's a gambling game, and I think that's how the game should be marketing itself anyway. You could have an extra 5,000 people at Saratoga next Sunday going "Oooo, Rachel, she's so gorgeous, yeah, go Calvin, honey bet a dollar to win as a souvenir" and it ain't gonna do a thing for future business. I can almost guarantee you that virtually none of them will ever see her race in person again. Bring them in to a comfortable setting, present some good brew and food, provide some wholesome entertainment (or some scantily clothed chicks), turn them on to trifectas, 50-cent pick threes, and dime superfectas, and just maybe you have a shot.