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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Searching for the Positive News in the Times

I wrote about the Santa Anita Handicap, Palace Malice, and a couple of three-year old stakes on my Today in Racing blog on the TimeformUS site.

Just got to watch the tape of the FOX/Jockey Club telecast of Game On Dude's win in the Big Cap.  The race was flexed in to the schedule when the matchup became apparent.  As we mentioned after the Donn, there are no more dirt races for the handicap division scheduled as the lead race on the series. So, should these three meet again, plus perhaps Palace Malice and Lea if we're lucky, the Jockey Club would have to add another telecast, or rely on tracks to change their stakes schedule (note that the Saratoga stakes schedule has not yet been announced).

I thought that the telecast was another solid job. Short and sweet at a half hour, it was therefore focused on the business at hand, with no superfluous human interest stories about the horse who ended up in Suzy's field who's running in the fourth (as described by Dean Towers in his column in Harness Racing Update).  There was a short feature with a Santa Anita executive talking about some of the amenities there, including food offerings such as a salad bar.  A friend at work opined that the words "salad bar" should never be a part of a telecast meant to promote horse racing to a young audience.  I would add "chandelier" to that as well.

Otherwise, we had an effective setup of the early season showdown by Greg Wolf and The Mig, and taped interviews snippets with Lukas, Gary Stevens, and Kathy Ritvo.  For a guy who is usually seated at a desk or in the paddock at Saratoga talkin' horses, Andy Serling seemed quite comfortable (and looked distinguished in a natty tie) holding a microphone and interviewing Bob Baffert. Of course, Baffert did his part to help.  Glad to see him looking well, and he was California laid back as he straightforwardly explained what had been going wrong, what the horse needed to do to win (an uncontested lead going into the first turn), and how he was doing going into the race.  The sport could do far worse should Baffert and Lukas be main players in televised races.

Good job with the post parade.  Nobody picked the winner; but Serling tabbed Blingo as his longshot stab, and gave a late shout-out to the value on Game On Dude (which was actually a prevailing theme throughout the telecast; he was 5-1 with five minutes to post!).

A note on the commercial by America's Best Racing: It's a great looking spot with some cool old footage.  But I just don't know how you promote the sport by wistfully recalling how racing "ruled the country," and how it "was the original madness."  I like 'Watch It. Play It. Love It.'  But I'm thinking that the idea needs to be how - and where - do you do so now, and not how people did it in the past.

A few more notes and observations on the news that came out of last week's NYRA board meeting:

 - People seem extremely upset about the grandstand being closed at Belmont, and that's just the people who know about it.  It hasn't really been publicized, and I'd bet it will come as a rude surprise to many come May when the track reopens.  Personally, I don't think this decision will stand.  I think NYRA is going to have to relent.  The idea that everyone who likes to hang out in the backyard - unquestionably, in my mind, the pulse of the place - is going to have to walk significant distances to go watch the races from bad seats in the clubhouse (that they'll probably have to pay for on weekends) seems radical.  Combine that with the admission going up to $5, and people are going to feel as if they are paying more and getting far far less. They're going to be pissed. And people in the clubhouse aren't going to be happy either.  Many of them are quite happy to pay a few extra bucks just to get away from the grandstand, and they won't be pleased that the grandstand is coming to them.  I think a compromise is in order wherein a certain number of sections in the grandstand remains open even while/if the betting windows and concessions are closed.

 - The subject of the sexual assault in the Aqueduct bathroom was brought up at the meeting; but not by Chris Kay, who then noted that such sordid incidents sometimes take place in other public places, such as Central Park. I happen to agree with Kay here, and I've noted that I think it's unfair to portray such an isolated incident as a symbol of the track's decline, as the Daily News in particular has continued to pile on.  Having said that though, with the promise of the opening of Longshots, we are hopefully looking at the nadir here, and the assault will no doubt and indeed come to be seen as a symptom of rock bottom.

 - Kay surely seems to be learning the political reality of his situation.

 “I would think that our charter would be to provide recommendations for what should happen” to Aqueduct....“It’s going to be decided, obviously, in Albany.” [DRF]
- I was interested to read Tom Noonan note in his latest post that the board Chairman David Skorton, referring to the next people who will run NYRA, said that they are "hopefully us."  That remark is now particularly puzzling given the announcement that Skorton has been named as the new director of the Smithsonian, starting in July, 2015.  That may allow him to serve out much of the rest of his term as Chairman before NYRA reverts to private control in October of that year. But he surely won't be around for the sequel.  And I don't know that that's what he meant anyway; as Noonan noted, nobody wants Cuomo sticking around the board room through his proxies.  Maybe he was trying to say that he hopes that NYRA reverts to being what it was, rather than being sold to the highest bidder.  Which is what I think is going to happen.

 - And there was some really good news.  As reported by the News: The death rate at NYRA tracks is now 1.5 per 1,000 starters, the lowest in the country.

Wow, that's excellent, and an impressive turnaround from when the 21 horse deaths in the winter of 2012 sparked enough outrage to get the indifferent governor involved.  Since Joe Drape and the New York Times are always so concerned about horse safety, and so quick to put negative stories on the front page, surely fair reporting demands some prominent placement of this news!  So, let's see what they published.

Hmmm, I entered NYRA horse deaths on their search page, but only got back these old, negative stories.

So I must be missing it somewhere.  Because, of course, the Times would be glad, if not ethically and journalistically obligated, to report on this happy epilogue to their Death and Disarray series; and do so prominently. Well, let's check Drape's Twitter feed.  Surely, the great man must have something on it.

Let's see.

Nope, that's not it.  I see he's been retweeting some really fascinating information.

Well, I wasn't, actually.  Here, he's rooting for his favorite wrestling team, enthusiastically if not grammatically correct. 
Ooooo, here's something!  
Oh, that's negative.  Well, now I'm back to February 1 in his feed, and I think this news was announced afterwards.  I dunno, maybe it was earlier, but I can't take reading this anymore. I must be mistaken, because Drape, who has assured us all along how fair and balanced his reporting has been, must have mentioned this somewhere.  Can somebody help us out here please?


Dan said...

I agree about the Belmont Grandstand. They will go back to having most of the 2nd floor closed. They should still keep the TV's on & have a few tellers. Hopefully these guys use flexibility with this dumb new policy.

jk said...

Do not hold your breath with the Belmont Grandstand. This regime talks a big game about growing attendance but actions speak louder than words.

Teresa said...

For what it's worth, the Times never reported on the state AG settling with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, either.

Figless said...

Drape roots for a team named Redmen? Do his bosses know about this?

Figless said...

Why should it be so "obvious" that the future of AQU will be decided in Albany, Mr. Kay?

Hmmm, accidentally spilling the beans?

The future of the franchise as a whole will be decided in Albany of course, but a fair process would allow the new Franchisees to make the call on AQU.

Figless said...

Re Belmont, they do not need to have tellers (or concessions, or bathrooms for that matter) just a few working machines will suffice. The key is the ability to sit outside and watch the race from the best seats in the house.

IF they are assuming everyone will be on the apron they need to consider the possibility of rain and those that like to actually sit at some point in the day.