I want to talk just a bit about the super duper Belmont Stakes day, as indicated in the title. But first, I wanted to expand and embellish a bit on the post I wrote about the Donn and the FOX telecast on the TimeformUS blog. If you want to check it out, I'll wait before I go on.
I'm not really qualified for a full review of the FOX telecast, since a series of restless nights caught up to me and I was passed out on the couch for the first 23 minutes. But a few comments. Just want to be clear(er) that when I say that the broadcast team looked nervous and needs time to develop chemistry together, it is certainly not meant as a criticism. This was a pretty significant step up in class for all of the team, even given all of their prior experience. So of course there were nerves. And, after all, this team was selected just a couple of weeks ago. Though Simon Bray and Greg Wolf work together at TVG; and Andy Serling and Richard Migliore have worked together on the MSG telecasts, here they were split up and working in roles and settings that they were not all accustomed to.
I was a little surprised to see The Mig in the on-track analyst seat; seemed a closer fit for Simon Bray, or maybe even Serling. But he actually seemed the most at ease of anyone. In fact, someone suggested that he seemed maybe a little too loose, and expressed fears that he's liable say something he'll later regret! At one point, he teased Serling over his remark that he was fine with trusting the jockeys to do their job. That might have been funny for those of us familiar with the NYRA feed, but it surely went over everyone else's head, including probably their colleagues on the telecast. But that's just part of the adjustment to this new stage. These guys are gonna be fine.
I thought Simon seemed a bit stiff and uncomfortable in his paddock analyst role. Serling seemed fine, curtly dismissing Will Take Charge in his way that you don't normally see on these telecasts. Usually, the commentators are almost apologetic about picking against the main horse of interest. I'm not sure where Andy was, somewhere up there in Stronach's folly somewhere it seemed. I liked when those two disagreed about whether the track was speed favoring or not; but it seemed like a tentative debate, as one might expect with two guys who may never have even met until the night before. As this series goes on, this year and hopefully beyond, they'll become more comfortable with each other, and it'll be great. The next telecast is the Dubai World Cup, and whether they actually go there, or broadcast it remotely, it will give them some time to spend and work together in closer quarters.
Other than that, don't really have much to say, which, in this context is good. It was just a good, solid intelligent racing telecast for the racing fan - with a little beginner stuff mixed in (though I personally wouldn't recommend $50 show bets on the two favorites); more like the yeoman's work we see from TVG and HRTV when they are on site. No extraneous camera angles (which was probably as much of a budgetary decision than anything else, but you can't beat the good ol' pan shot); and no sappy features (unless I missed one in the first 23 minutes).
One note on the race - I saw some chatter on Twitter about the fact that the track was sealed during the four consecutive grass races that were run prior to the Donn. There was speculation that perhaps that caused the track to get souped up and contribute to the jackhammer performance by Lea. Previously, closers had done pretty well. Makes sense, but it's just speculation, and I don't want to take anything away from Lea, who had every right to improve as he did without any extra assistance from the track maintenance crew. Nobody had a chance once he reeled off three consecutive quarters of 23 4/5 to the eighth pole, and it was quite the remarkable performance by Will Take Charge to get as close as he did, with the rest of the field spinning their wheels, strung out behind him.
- The announcement by NYRA that Belmont Stakes day will be part of a 'Belmont Stakes Festival,' including ten stakes races for purses of $8 million - the second biggest purse day of the racing year - left me cold. Well, maybe that's because everything is cold around here these days. I look outside and at the upcoming forecast and I wonder if this stuff is gonna melt by Wood Memorial day!
Strictly as a betting card, I'll probably prefer the fare on Wood day over Belmont day, because I'm just not a big stakes race guy....at least when it comes to wagering. A perfect card to me is what we see these days on a typical weekend day at Gulfstream. Full-field claimers, a lot of interesting maiden races, competitive allowance contests on both surfaces, capped off by a nice graded stakes race or two. To me, that's a "full day of quality racing."
So I'm not really that impressed, or thrilled. That's just me, but I'll be going anyway. On the other hand, our buddy Figless is excited about it. But he'd also be going anyway even if the format was unchanged. The point being, as Pullthepocket succinctly pointed out the other day, big days are big - and Belmont day is already about as big as they get - and they won't necessarily get any bigger if they're made bigger. Or something like that. Of course, the handle will likely be bigger, because people bet more on graded stakes races, as shown by the study we did over at TimeformUS.
We all understand what they're trying to do here. But personally I'm skeptical that the big purses will bring many extra people out to the track; hopefully it will entice some from out-of-town to make plans and not wait until after the Preakness to decide (and this is partially a bet against the same horse winning the first two legs). But people like us are going to go anyway. And are new or casual fans really going to be attracted by outsized purse monies anymore than they are already lured by the event? Seems to me that attractive entertainment and/or hospitality features alone - yet to be announced - could very well accomplish that without the extra stakes and prizes. One thing I think I can say for sure - the idea that there will be more press coverage of the event is just wishful thinking. As we've seen from the Breeders' Cup, newspapers devote a certain amount of space for a horse racing event - and the more "big" races there are, the smaller the coverage of each will be packed into the same amount of space.