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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Breeders Cup Going Synthetic

- Seems rather odd to me that the Breeders' Cup folks would be about to award Santa Anita its second consecutive BC today, as reported by the LA Times.

"I think we're the leading candidate," said Allen Gutterman, the track's vice president of marketing.

Sherwood "Chilli" Chillingworth, executive vice president and director of the Oak Tree Racing Assn., also expressed optimism in getting the bid.

"This year, we'll host the first Breeders' Cup to be run on a synthetic track," he said, "and next year we'd be the first to host back-to-back Breeders' Cups."
For one thing, the track is currently such a disaster given its dysfunctional racing surface, that the timing seems especially strange; indeed, the outlook for Friday's scheduled re-opening on the revised Cushion Track was termed as "guarded" by Ron Charles. I'm not sure if BC officials were on hand for the wildly successful Pro-Ride demonstration that pre-empted the other options being considered at the time.

But even forgetting that, at a time when the industry has taken a wait-and-see approach to the installation of new artifical surfaces amidst a general wariness (that the debacle at Santa Anita has greatly contributed to) and a sense that it's gone too fast, the annual industry showcase is plunging full speed ahead. It seems to me that this could reflect Greg Avioli's comments last year that they would stick to the bigger tracks for now. With Churchill having taken its unimaginably greedy bottom line avoidance of hosting the event, NYRA still up in the air (perhaps they'd want to wait another day or two given the rumors of a pending settlement), Gulfstream no longer able to physically handle a large crowd (not to mention its configuration which makes its nine furlong races unfair), and Del Mar's grass course not wide enough to accommodate the big fields, it would seem that Santa Anita is, at present, the only feasible option. Cushion Track, Pro-Ride, or whatever.

So get used to the synthetics.....the Breeders' Cup is giving them the kind of credibility that could, by itself, drown out the opposition for now.

- Thanks to reader Indulto for these very well-thought out suggestions of how NYRA could attempt to meet attendance benchmarks that the reader feels would be most reasonable. I have to admit that I'm skeptical of the notion that the live sport can be revived to any significant extent downstate. And I think that some of these ideas - weekend autograph sessions, backstretch tours, handicapping seminars - have been tried before. However, the idea of takeout and rebate advantages for on-track players, expedited mass transit (how about tour buses with free Forms and an in-transit handicapping seminar), and, of course, greatly improved facilities could only help. Admission and parking are generally free at the racinos I've been to, so I imagine that will be the case at Aqueduct, at least. (But I got reamed by an employee at the Form the last time I suggested making PP's free, asking if I wanted to put them out of business.)

In addition to these ideas, I always liked the 'mystery vouchers' that used to be widely mailed, with a minimum value and the possibility of a big prize. And if NYC OTB was ever consolidated, NYRA could use them in a constructive way to actually encourage people to go to the track, through contests, incentives, and the opportunity to publicize ideas such as the ones presented above.

In any event and on second thought, such benchmarks would certainly put NYRA's feet to the fire, and an attendance drive out of desperation could only help to inspire even more creative ideas. But, as I said, this is something I believe NYRA will examine very closely before agreeing to it.

- And an excellent point by this reader regarding the NY horsemen's silence on the franchise and the VLT percentages.
..Nothing in the Spitzer proposal indicates that NYRA will be required to have a written agreement with the horsemen on simulcasting, as required by federal law for every other racetrack in the United States. Thus, they have no leverage.
They go along to get along. What's their option?
Well, a far more aggressive approach would be to threaten a boycott. I can't really think of any other way.

Nothing new to report on the negotiations. Albany Channel 13 says to hold your horses; but Newsday called the deal "imminent."


Anonymous said...

Bizarre decision by the Breeders Cup, but bizarre appears to be the new normal in this business.

Regarding the franchise, read one small article today (forget where) that indicated Bruno is fighting for a larger percentage for horsemen, the only voice in favor.

We will see what is more important to him, political appointees on the board or the health of the industry.

I would bet on the former.

Anonymous said...

Mystery vouchers, rebates, yeah yeah yeah.

How about day-long weekend entertainment from a guitarist with a bottomless set list who's lost more money than anybody who'd dare to beat him at trivia!!

Resident in the Loser's Lounge---that's it, name the bar for him!!!! My Funny Valentine? Puh-leeze. His standards would include Crosseyed Mary and Hey Joe and and Wish You Were Here.


steve in nc said...

Alan, I agree that the odds of reviving on-track attendance are slim, no matter what approach is used. It's not like they've never tried to attact more people (hell, many of the employees have even stopped being downright rude).

Probably, they'll end up needing to have more twilight cards at Belmont with bigger name concerts. They'll get more people through the doors and lose more money at the same time paying the acts.

Of course all that stuff is a distraction and bother to real players, most of whom will continue to stay home.

Maybe if they just publicize the no-hassle cop-free ganja zone at AQ...

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that the attendance issue is driven primarily by the Saratoga tourism trade. As for downstate, I'd suppose the objective is to get people to bet, producing purses for horsemen and revenue for the state. If another distribution channel works better than getting people on-track, so be it. And if you have a casino on the premises, how do you measure attendance? Do casino patrons count?


Anonymous said...

The day was going along pretty well and then Alan dropped in with a mention of the Breeders Cup. Why does the Breeders Cup annoy me so? Almost as much as hearing about the top 10, or 20, or whatever KY Derby prospects from now on. Could be approaching a "Dean Scream" moment. Why do I feel like another useful idiot in service to the KY Breeders and their Sheihk patrons? How does all of this help the average horseman I ask? How does all of this benefit NY racing I selfishly ask? It's annoying things like what Alan reports today: Apparently the synthetic track lobby has formed an unholy alliance with the BC to run this year's BC on a Santa Anita synthetic track which is a complete flop. Somehow the synthetic surface manufacturers and their allies are going to jam their Edsels down our throats, whether they run or not. That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Racing continues to shoot itself in the foot, and sells more of it's soul to a 2 day event all for an elite club of KY breeders. Wake up, will ya?! It's time for a "Handicap Division Cup", or some such stakes series for the handicap division with purses as enticing as the BC. Instead of trying to create instant ATM's out of 3 YO's at stud, let's reward runners who race at 4 and 5 and those who actually earn a respectable record on the racetrack instead of the one hit wonders the BC series produces. Maybe it would bring some fans back to the track and grow some new ones? Sign me, Green Mtn Punter, The Chronically Annoyed Crank

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm even going to say this, but there is a cavernous plant with a dirt track, built to accomodate large crowds, used to hosting one of the biggest race days of the year, and located in a region that would allow the Breeders Cup to be a dominant media story for most of the week...

Oh Lord...I can't believe this is even going to come out of my mouth. What about Pimlico?

Alan Mann said...

>>What about Pimlico?

Well, if they had it at Aqueduct....

Anonymous said...

The BC is already at Santa Anita for 2008 so if the track problems continue then the bigger concern is this year's BC - not 2009. I don't have an issue with the BC being at SA back to back.

Belmont never attracts the audience, Churchill doesn't want it, Arlington Park was popular but too small and going even smaller as it was in Jersey and Texas doesn't make anyone happy.

The upside is that hopefully by it being at the same sunny venue back to back that marketing the BC can be more creative.

Pimlico will be a mixed used housing and commercial project development by 2013.

Anonymous said...

Great headlines on Had to be posted by someone with a sense of irony.

Santa Anita gets 2009 Breeders' Cup
By DRF STAFF - Posted 4:40 pm

Santa Anita, the site of the 2008 Breeders' Cup World Championships on Oct. 24-25, will be the host track for the championships again in 2009, the Breeders' Cup announced Thursday.

Santa Anita calls off Friday's program
By STEVE ANDERSEN - Posted 1:44 pm

Santa Anita officials on Thursday canceled Friday's nine-race program, saying that the ongoing renovation project to improve drainage on the synthetic main track needed an additional 24 hours to complete.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the warm reception you gave my attendance incentive list. I drop by daily for your insightful commentary on the fascinating, but frustrating franchise renewal process. If any racing blog entries are making their way to some influential eyes and ears engaged in that struggle, it is very likely some of them are yours.

I agree that in today’s world, racing’s future depends on expanding off-track viewing and wagering, but off-track enthusiasm and participation is created and nurtured by the on-track experience; the more frequent, the more effective.

Saratoga certainly doesn’t need to be constrained by attendance benchmarks. It already delivers the ultimate on-track experience so difficult to duplicate at downstate venues which aren’t vacation destinations with dedicated community support.

But with some astute planning, Belmont could still become the weekend and holiday option of choice for thousands of racing fans by eliminating the most significant cost and convenience barriers, and creating a welcoming environment which is socially as well as financially rewarding.

An attitude adjustment is definitely in order for racetrack executives and government officials to recognize all horseplayers as valued customers/revenue generators. Albany’s simian trio needs to stop conducting their monkey business and start seeing, hearing, and speaking to racing fans – both on-track and off.

Anonymous said...

I've looked at Ernie S' comments several times and am still laughing each time. Seinfeld could use you on his writing team.... Steve d' s suggestion of Pimlico for BC 2008 should be considered: Rather see the BC at Old Hilltop than at old "Plastic Mush", a/k/a Santa Anita. Also, second Indulto's comments on Belmont potential. It can happen if NYRA decides to make it happen. It is unacceptable that this venerated cathedral/temple/Mecca of racing has been allowed to decline to it's current state. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

"... how about tour buses with free Forms and an in-transit handicapping seminar ..." I can vouch for this one -- since it's how I got hooked on racing. A friend of mine has been organizing a bus trip to the Belmont Stakes for years now. It grew from a couple of guys in a mini-van to dozens of folks in a Greyhound, and there's always a waiting list. Details of the bus ride's various amenities are over at Turf Luck. Did I mention that the bus starts in BALTIMORE?

While I understand that increasing attendance at the big race days is not the overall goal, I'm of the mind that newcomers are more likely to return to the track if their first day at the track is one of those big, festive stakes days New York does so well.

Anonymous said...

The inexplicable decision to hold the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita two years in a row is yet another example of how the people who run racing have no grasp whatsoever of the reality of the sport. Steve Crist says it best...