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Friday, January 18, 2013

Panic Time

The state-controlled NYRA Reorganization Board "will have serious discussions next week to consider important issues that affect the health and safety of our jockeys and horses," according to Chairman David Skorton.  This comes in response to recent breakdowns on the Big A inner track.  

Four horses -- El Macho (December 13, 1ST race), Bomber Boy (January 6, 7TH race), Wildcat's Smile (January 6, 8TH race) and Pleasantfriday (January 10, 5TH race) -- were injured and euthanized since racing began on the inner track on December 12. [BRIS]
  In addition to the establishment of an equine veterinary medical director, a Mortality Review Board, and full necropsies on all dead horses (I do hope that the state is devoting as much attention and resources to, say, the deaths of people in its troubled disabled care system), the Board will consider the installation of a synthetic track to replace the current surface. 

Now, breaking out my trusty 2013 NYRA calendar, that makes four fatalities in 22 racing days on the inner track; and there are 51 scheduled days left (though NYRA is considering moving back to the main track earlier than March 30 if possible).  If fatalities continue at the same rate, then the final total for the meet would be around 13 or 14.  That's compared to 21 from the meet last year (which was indeed shortened)....but still slightly more than recent years past: from 2002 through 2011, the figures were 8-8-3-9-8-11-10-12-12-10.

Still, the Board is reacting to a very small sample size - spates of injuries are often followed by long periods without one - and not allowing the meet to fully play out in order to evaluate changes made since last year.  Let's face it; four deaths in 22 days would not have garnered much attention if not for the publicity last year.  Now I'm all for synthetic surfaces as you may know.  But if the NYRA Reorg Board thinks that a synth track is going to be a cure-all for fatal breakdowns, then they are going to be sorely disappointed, and the Board members who actually know about horse racing know that full well.   And remember, the inner track surface itself was completely exonerated by the report on the breakdowns last year.

Also up for discussion is a cut back to four racing days a week and eight races a day.  Fields are short, and trainer and NYTHA president Richard Violette explains why. 
  “We need to be given the opportunity to shrink the season a little bit,....One of the reasons is the new medication standards we set here – it’s resulted in over an 80 percent reduction in shippers. [DRF]
  The problem is mainly the restrictions on the use of clenbuterol, now restricted 14 days out here as opposed to just a few days at other tracks in the region with slots-inflated purses.  So you can kiss all the talk about those purses here reviving the winter sport goodbye, due to a medication rule that is really more to satisfy the New York Times as for any scientifically yet-to-be-proven purpose.

 - Made my first visit to the Big A last weekend, and lasted for about a half hour.  Indeed, the back rooms on the second floor are closed, ostensibly so that Genting can help to construct the promised simulcast/sports bar facility there.  Until that room is ready, I'll continue to play the races from home. 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fan Advisory Council

This below is the 2012 report by the New York Racing Fan Advisory Council.  It's worth a read; a commendable effort initiated by the Racing and Wagering Board last year in 2011.  The four members, including representation from the female and harness sets (albeit the same person) solicited opinion from a spectrum of New York horseplayers and this is what they came up with.  Below the document, I chime in with some random comments on some of the suggestions made.

Racing Fan Advisory Council 2012 Report

  While it seems track management has encouraged SAM usage to speed up transactions and reduce the number of live tellers needed, there were complaints at each forum about a lack of sufficient live tellers. Some bettors prefer giving their bet to a person and recognize this is a matter of providing customer service.
  I dunno....kind of thinking "get with the program" here.  I think that way when I drive up to the EZ Pass lane and see cars waiting in long lines to pay cash.  Then I might feel bad, knowing that some people may not have credit cards or just not have the money nor wherewithal to make advance deposits.  But that's not the case at a track; it's just people being lame for the most part.  I can see manned windows for preferred high-volume customers.  But otherwise, deal with it.

I can't believe people still wait on lines when there is no reason to do so if one just makes a bare effort to adapt to the scant technology involved with using a machine.  Not much more than using an ATM, and I'm sure many of those on line for people know how to use those. 

  Several fans also noted that signage for entry to the track via automobile or subway was poor, and that the address of the track should be revised for those using mobile devices for directions.
  Well, I've driven to these tracks so many times, I don''t notice about signs....except for this one, still there at the corner of Woodhaven and Rockaway Blvds.

But it's true about mobile devices.  My GPS is unable to direct me to Belmont via the highway; doesn't seem to know it's there.  It insists on taking me on a circuitous route of secondary roads, even as I approach closely on the Cross Island.

Here's an obvious one: 
  It was evident that the racing side of the Aqueduct facility is in great need of restoration and repair to accommodate fans. Several sections in the track side are run down, with some furniture and fixtures from the 1950s still in use. The contrast between the Resorts World side of the facility and the racing side is disturbing from a race fan’s perspective.
  I still haven't been there since it opened in the fall.  Never found a sweet spot last year, and there are even less options this year, assuming that those rooms at the back of the 2nd floor clubhouse [no longer necessary to make that distinction] are really being converted into a sports/simulcast bar.  I really have little desire to spend an afternoon there when [and  not so long ago, I swore that I'd never say this], I can play the races at home.  Of course, back when I said that, I wasn't able to bet and watch virtually every track in the country on my computer.  If you missed it, NYRA COO Ellen McClain complained to the NYRA board that Genting has not lived up to its commitment to help keep the place tidy, and that NYRA had to hire people to do it instead.  The Fan Advisory Council also mentioned some construction at the subway entrance; and, if I recall correctly, the subway access is something Genting was going to take care of too.  As I've mentioned previously, if Governor Cuomo is really so concerned about NYRA, perhaps he would read the riot act to a company hoping to win his favor for a future casino.

   At Saratoga and at all other tracks visited by the Council, fans expressed a desire for more expanded wagering options. 
 Really???  You don't have enough ways to bet??   What could possibly be missing?  Rolling grand slams??

              Allow “rolling” Grand Slam wagers in most races.

Oh, for heaven's sake.  Though I do know one person who would like that.

Jumping in on the harness side:
  ABC Classification: The return to this racing classification system has been announced at the Meadowlands and several fans spoke up to say they do not like this system as it is more unfair to the betting public than the current classification system.
  Not being an expert on the subject, I'll just say that this was the class system used at Roosevelt and Yonkers back in the good old days, and I recall it working quite well.  I understand that it must be a hodgepodge trying to figure it out now, with horses coming from all different sorts of conditions.  But it's clear and simple, and, once things flush out as time goes on, eliminates the guesswork of trying to class-assess different conditions.  (On the other hand, it eliminates the guesswork of trying to class-assess different conditions, thus eliminating a potential edge for those sharp enough to spot something the public doesn't.)  And I'm looking over some Meadowlands results charts and seeing some wide open betting contests in those races. 
  Have twilight races every Friday night throughout the summer.
Never switch to poly-track surface.

  Track operators should make WiFi available throughout the racing facilities so that fans can use tablets and other technology to download racing programs and access handicapping information at the tracks.
  Tricky one for tracks I think.  I know NYRA does have WiFi available (at least at Belmont and Saratoga), and there are compelling reasons from the fans' standpoint why they should.  But that also facilitates betting with ADWs that share a far smaller percentage of handle than if the patron bet on track.  So I can't really blame track operators if they are hesitant.
Many fans expressed displeasure regarding the large number of races carded at Saratoga, and in particular the large number of maiden races. Many felt that post times after 6 PM made for too long a day at the track. In additional, many fans believed that the quality of racing at Saratoga had diminished significantly and that the large number of races was, in part, a factor in this regard. Several fans believed that a smaller number of races could result in a product of higher quality.
  Personally, I like the long days at the Spa....and nobody is forcing anyone to stay past 6 PM if they find the day too long.  But the point about too many maiden races is surely valid.  And I've long been calling for five-day-a-week racing there, because the meet is too long.  But I don't think we'll see that until the meet is inevitably extended to run from the 4th of July through Labor Day...if then.  And as far as the "quality" of the races goes.....see my last post.  These days, "quality" to me means a big field (but not too big, 10 horses will do), and a competitive tote board.  And I think we saw a lot of that at Saratoga last summer.  I would however like to see early post times on holidays such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  Would be nice to be able to spend the day, be done at 4 PM and still make it home for the family BBQ.