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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Studio Racing at Gulfstream?

- With the declining live crowds in many locales and the technology to make it possible, racing has long been headed towards the concept of it being strictly a “studio sport,” in which the races are conducted in an empty, silent plant, while fans bet and watch the races at simulcast centers, on TV, their computers, cellphones, and IPODs.

Now, it appears that that day may have actually arrived. With the construction at Gulfstream lagging behind schedule, and the meet slated to begin just four weeks from today, the Sun-Sentinal reports of a possible Plan B if the plant is not ready to host people.

One contingency plan for Gulfstream could come in the next few days when the track is expected to sign an agreement to simulcast its races to Calder for the first time in 35 years. If the two sides agree to a deal, Savin was asked if the races could be run at Gulfstream for a few weeks while all wagering takes place at Calder. This would allow Gulfstream time to prepare for its first big day of racing, the Jan. 28 Sunshine Millions that is televised nationally.

"We hope it doesn't get to that point," Savin said. "We hope it doesn't get to that level of contingency."
That does not sound like a man who is convinced that it will be anything but exactly that level of contingency. It would certainly be weird, though last year’s meet during which the horses and riders left the noise of the crowd at the top of the stretch and raced into silence at the finish line was bizarre enough. I’m just glad I’m not holding plane tickets to fly down for the historic opening day. Here's the latest photo from the Gulfstream website:

Doesn't look too promising; the Sentinal reports that the building is "empty." But I imagine it will be quite impressive upon completion.

This also raises the “tree falls in the forest” question of: Would Tom Durkin Vic Stauffer actually call the races over the P.A. at the track (if there is one), or just for the simulcast patrons? Aren’t you glad that I come up with incisive questions like that?

Meanwhile, little progress thus far in the Florida legislature’s efforts to agree on regulations for slots at Gulfstream and the other Broward County pari-mutuels. The Senate moved from a 45% tax rate to a sliding scale starting at a 35% rate which could encourage Hollywood Greyhound Pompano Park harness to proceed with their lavish construction plans, but would then move up to 55% as profits increase. This prompted Senate President Tom Lee to speculate that the committee's action moves the two chambers even farther apart [Sun-Sentinal], and to announce that he won’t support that bill because it "leaves tens of millions of dollars on the table." [Palm Beach Post]

- In Pennsylvania, Republican State Rep. Paul Clymer is leading a move to repeal the slots law there. Fat chance, say many. Indeed, the state is already addicted to the slot money months before they become a reality.
About two dozen bills are pending in the Legislature to reduce property taxes, and a lot of them count on using up to $1 billion in new revenue that [Governor] Rendell says will be generated by a 34 percent state tax on slots revenue. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Clymer is encouraged by the recent repeal of a legislative pay raise which was, like the slots bill, passed on a vote in the middle of the night. "My legislation would repeal this misguided slots law and restore the social values that have made Pennsylvania the state we love to call home." Lofty words indeed. But a gambling proponent, Sen. Robert Tomlinson, scoffs at the chances of repeal, and feels that Clymer has a dependency problem of his own. "You talk about a psychological addiction. The guy doesn't want to give up." [Bucks County Courier Times]

- NYRA hasn’t given up their quest to sell the land near Aqueduct that could net it $20 million and bridge the gap until their slots arrive, and in a bit of a surprise, CEO Charles Hayward's appeal to the state’s oversight board on Tuesday apparently didn't fall on deaf ears.
A spokesman for Gov. George Pataki did not rule out allowing NYRA to sell 80 parcels near Aqueduct or deferring $32 million in tax and fee payments for a year -- NYRA's preferred solution to its serious cash-flow problems.

But, according to Hayward, new and different options are being pursued. He declined to provide specifics.

"It was a productive meeting with no conclusions. We did reaffirm to them that time is short. We truly think we are going to run out of money by the end of the month," he said. "We need either the land sale or some sort of commensurate solution." [Albany Times-Union]
Not surprisingly, NYRA’s announcement of their 2006 stakes schedule included a $4 million cut in purses and nine eliminated races.
Among the cuts in grade I stakes, The Jockey Club Gold Cup purse was reduced from $1 million to $750,000, and the Beldame, Flower Bowl, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Met Mile were all cut from $750,000 to $600,000. The Coaching Club American Oaks saw its purse reduced to $300,000 from $500,000.

The eliminated stakes are the Astarita, Valley Stream, Cowdin, Huntington, Lawrence Realization, Saratoga Breeders' Cup, Belmont Breeders' Cup, and Meadowbrook Steeplechase. [Bloodhorse]
They've also made some major changes to the stakes schedule, most notably moving the Woodward from its longtime home at Belmont to Saratoga, to be run on the final weekend. Labor Day weekend will feature three other Grade 1s in addition to the Woodward - the Hopeful, back to its traditional spot on closing day, the Forego, and the Spinaway. These moves should address the anti-climactic atmosphere there this past year on the final weekend. The entire 2006 Saratoga stakes schedule is listed here. Check it out and start making your plans, because the deadline for seat applications is December 23.