We were awoken by the radio alarm clock on Tuesday morning from a brief snooze after the redeye home from San Diego with a news report on WCBS-AM regarding the uptick in business at Saratoga. "They had over 20,000 on closing day yesterday," one of the anchors said after reporting the percentage increases.
No, I wasn't dreaming. Even the Head Chef, with her limited knowledge of the subject, realized that it was highly unusual to hear anything about racing on a mainstream news station; particularly something positive about NYRA! It wasn't even the sports report. One might wonder if NYRA or the horsemen had provided a push to the news, as a followup to the reaction by horsemen last month to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's contention that increased purses from slots had not helped business at the tracks.
According to The Jockey Club Information Systems, Saratoga purses totaled $37,812,860, up considerably from the $26,855,100 distributed in 2011 [there were 20 more races this year.] [BloodHorse.com]Ah yes. Summer is over, crashing down for us with the 45 minute taxi line wait at 5:15 in the morning at JFK. If it was up to me, we'd have stayed out there for closing day at Del Mar on Wednesday, especially after rallying on Monday from what was, to that point, a winless long weekend [not counting the double I had at Arlington to start the day] to hit the 7th winner, 8th exacta, and double into the 9th [though I had to leave before that race and will have to cash that one next year]. Man, I was just getting warmed up! Whatsmore, Dinosaur Jr is playing at Belly Up on Thursday. Doh! And that would have given us three more glorious days at the beach of course. But no. Indeed, my 'between jobs' period is officially over, so back to work I go.
And, with the change of season, the much-anticipated changes at NYRA will soon unfold and the debate over slots and casinos and revenues will resume. Not everyone heeded my advice in July to forget about what we can't control and just enjoy the racing. Paul Moran, Andy Beyer, and blogger Tom Noonan (fairly new on the blog scene with some knowing and articulate observations on this and other subjects), are amongst those who just couldn't help but wringing their hands with worry about the future of slots revenue for NYRA. Now it's September, nothing has changed; still, nobody knows for sure what's going to happen. But again, it's important to keep in mind that NYRA's share of racino revenue cannot simply be overturned by decree, not even by this governor. As Noonan pointed out in his last post on the subject: By law, NYRA is entitled to the VLT revenues with no strings attached. However, I disagree with him when he wrote (well prior to the Saratoga figures):
We even have leading New York horsemen now arguing that attendance and handle are up, instead of making the case that NYRA has a legal right to this money by statute.The law is the law. That argument does not need to be made in my view. But I think the industry surely does need to fight back against the misleading rhetoric and highlight the positive when it can. If the governor is really intent on cutting racino revenue to the tracks, he may have made a mistake in his takeover of the NYRA board. It won't change the law, and, in making NYRA his own and removing the "corrupt" whipping boy long used as a convenient foil by politicians and editorial boards to stigmatize the whole industry, it gives horsemen a better chance to humanize the issue and make it about jobs. As I've written before, there will be a lot of different dynamics involved and constituents to consider if it comes down to a vote by lawmakers, and the more the debate is about jobs rather than faulty takeout rates, the better. If the Republicans retain control of the state Senate, we'll likely see them continue the oppositional pose to Cuomo they started at the end of the last session - after he signed off on their perverse redistricting maps - with the marijuana reform and minimum wage bills. I don't think anyone can say how it will go. So we should save our angst for the right time and work to see that it doesn't come to that.
- People like to compare Saratoga and Del Mar, argue about which one is "better." But they are really quite different, difficult to compare. I go up to Saratoga Springs to go to the track, and the other various activities and natural attractions in the area that we love serve as support to the main event. We go to Southern California to relax and marvel at the weather and the beaches and the cliffs and ocean that frame them. And Del Mar is a beautiful track and a great place to spend a late afternoon. But I'd still travel there without the races. And that's not at all a commentary on the relative merits of the racing at these two amazing tracks. Sure, I'm partial to New York as you know. But the racing at Del Mar this past weekend was pretty fantastic itself - consistently full, competitive fields, maybe even a little deeper on balance than what I saw at the Spa when I was there earlier in the meet. However, the sheer natural beauty of the area speaks for itself and stands on its own. Won't bother trying to articulate that any further. Even the photos don't do it true justice. [All photos courtesy of the Head Chef...and please check out her blog Grapes and Greens.]