Paul Moran

For 30 years, more than 22 at Newsday, in New York, Paul Moran has covered thoroughbred racing on its highest level. During that time, he has covered 30 Triple Crown series, every running of the Breeders' Cup Championships, 23 race meetings at Saratoga, won two Eclipse Awards, a Red Smith Award for coverage of the Kentucky Derby and other writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, Long Island Press Club, Society of Silurians (the oldest press club in New York), Long Island Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Magazine Publishers Association.

In 2002, he was named New York's best thoroughbred handicapper by the New York Press in its annual "Best of Manhattan" edition. His work has appeared in virtually every racing publication published in the United States and most major American newspapers. He is a licensed owner of thoroughbreds in New York Contact:

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If you weren’t there … shut up!

If you have been reading the pained Internet banter that has fallen out from the last significant Saturday of the New York racing season, that being the one at our backs, you may have noticed the repeated alarmed reference to the crowd of about 4,700 people who braved a particularly cold and uncomfortable day in order to be present for the Cigar Mile, Demoiselle and Remsen Stakes.

To those intrepid and dedicated souls, we tip out hat. They, however, seem not to be the people complaining.

For the record, yes, I was at Aqueduct on Saturday. The opportunity to see top-class horses and promising two-year-olds will take a back seat to few other things in my view my own hospitalization, for instance. I spent the afternoon in the company of people with similar points of view. It was cold, but the racing was terrific and I would prefer to be at a racetrack on a big day than anywhere else I can reach by car or public transportation. But thats me.

How many of those expressing alarm at Saturdays attendance figure can be counted as part of the total? The absence of the qualifier common to the alarmists rants I was there is rather amusing. If you were elsewhere -- at home, OTB, a mall, Wall Mart, Christmas shopping in Manhattan anywhere except Aqueduct -- shut up! By your absence, you have ceded the right of complaint or at least the credentials to do so with even a shred of authority. Your two cents worth is overpriced.

While in the current era handle, not attendance, is the only realistic measure of the success or failure of any afternoon of racing at Aqueduct or anywhere else, those singularly obsessed with on-track attendance figures are seldom if ever at the races. A more realistic measure of participation would include anyone in New York who placed a wager on Saturday through any platform.

A total of $7,898,144 was wagered on the races at Aqueduct on Saturday 86.5 percent of that total bet off-site. It is reasonable to assume that 86.5 percent of the participants were then elsewhere. If you were among them, thanks for playing. But dont complain about the attendance. If you regard this as a problem, you are part of it.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

If anything is possible …

At some point there will be movement in the capital of New York, where sage legislators will determine the shape and form of racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.

Now, suppose that the franchise is granted to an entity other than the New York Racing Association and a judge determines that the real estate at the tracks in question belongs to the state. NYRA, of course appeals.

Suddenly, the slate is clean. The present and future is no longer a continuation of what is a rich history.

It has never been discussed in great detail, but were NYRA forced out of existence the names of the racetracks themselves and those of every race run at these three racetracks, many more than a century-old, would also cease to exist.

There is no question of title to the names of stakes races run at NYRAs tracks, some of which were originally run at other places now part of history Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Empire City, Jamaica and moved to their present location when NYRA was formed. The original NYRA, however, was an amalgam of racing associations. Award of the franchise, which expires at the end of 2007, to another entity amounts to a hostile takeover that would result in a cessation of racing at least until a court determined ownership of the properties.

If at some point in the dim future the Supreme Court of the United States agrees eventually to decide the issue and every decision were to go against NYRA, the Belmont Stakes would cease to exist as would the name Belmont Park, since all three tracks would be suddenly nameless. There would no longer be a Wood Memorial, a Metropolitan Handicap, a Jockey Club Gold Cup, a Whitney Handicap, a Travers, Alabama, Woodward, Champagne, Mother Goose, Coaching Club Oaks or even a Cigar Mile.

Racing would resume within a matter of several years. By that time, the center of Eastern racing would be somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, Pimlico, perhaps, the breeding industry in New York would be a memory, the long-scarred upstate economic landscape dotted by abandon and overgrown farms where once broodmares and foals grazed. The tracks themselves, dark while the due process of litigation and appeal ground forward at the usual snails pace, would eventually be reopened with new names Elmont Park? Union Avenue Downs? Ozone Park?

Years of video lottery terminal revenue held since 2009, when a casino was opened at the former Aqueduct, for purses would lure owners back to New York and the new proprietor, the Shinnecock Indian Nation, would fashion a stakes schedule entirely of inaugurals without grade or history.

By then, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Sen. Joe Bruno would have long-ago returned to the private sector and no one would really remember what started this mess in the first place. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, will have been elected president, having run on his greatest accomplishments, congestion pricing and purging the city of off-track betting. The states five OTB entities located outside the city would have long ago gone bankrupt.

Re-opening day at Elmont Park would draw a crowd of 120,000 everyone who still remembers racing, the average age 78 would mirror the original early May 1905 opening and the VLT Handicap would replace the Met Mile. Most of the horses entered have been running at Presque Isle Downs, It is won by a 20-1 longshot trained by Allen Jerkens.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

This is the forest; these are the trees

Once upon a time, a day at the races meant something entirely different than it does nowadays. The racetrack was teaming with people, who complained that by the time the horses for the first race were at the starting gate, they were already behind for the day: Transportation, parking, admission, the Daily Racing Form, perhaps a beer and a sandwich. It added up.

There was no system of off-track betting or any other form of legal gambling in those days. Slot machines were in Nevada and the lottery was called the number and was an enterprise of the mob, not the state government. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet and most accounts that harbored cash were in banks. There was no exacta, trifecta, superfecta, pick three, four or six. The only alternative to win, place and show was the daily double on the first two races. The sharp players labored to calculate their own speed figures, but shared them with no one.

But there were people at the races, most of them standing in line because if you were betting, thats what you did between races. There were windows that sold tickets in fixed denominations and there were others that cashed tickets. Self service was an option only for the clerks.

A day at the races was not the festive occasion that those who bemoan the off-track migration of the live audience would have you believe.

This comes to mind after having seen the anti-NYRA television spot produced this week on behalf of the Capital Play, the Australians who would happily raise the takeout on every wager currently legal in New York if only the authorities would share the vision that by granting them the racing franchise they would somehow cause the empty grandstands of the two downstate racetracks to suddenly team with horseplayers shouting, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie oy, oy, oy!

Garbage. Any talk of returning to the good old days when racetracks were destinations is simply dishonest. Any notion that it is possible to stimulate meaningful growth of the daily on-track attendance total is foolish. The industry created the options that encourage remote participation and is living with the result.

It is Saturday morning and I like a horse in the second race at Aqueduct. If the price is acceptable, I will pick up the telephone and place a wager. I will watch all nine races on the card. If an opportunity presents itself in the form of an overlay, I will again pick up the phone. If not, I am warm and comfortable at home and I will bet no more or less than I would were I at the races. My best guess it that fewer than 5,000 people will be at Aqueduct today but the total handle will likely approach $10 million. Next Saturday, Midnight Lute will be in town for the Cigar Mile, more than sufficient reason to make the trip to Queens. The Stuyvesant Handicap, particularly in lieu of a strong opinion, is not.

Aqueduct has seen its last big crowd. Get over it. There will be big crowds at Belmont, but few and far between Belmont Stakes day, the occasional Breeders Cup. Saratoga is the exception to every rule, but the combination of place, season and a level of racing duplicated nowhere else defies what is otherwise the stark reality of racing in America.
The audience is off track literally.

In places away from Aqueduct but all over New York, places closer to their homes, horseplayers still enjoy the camaraderie of kindred spirits once reserved for the track. They gather at teletheaters, in neighborhood bars and restaurants that have been fitted with self-service betting terminals by various OTB agencies and lined with televisions.

This is by no means an ideal circumstance considering the misshapen fiscal structure of OTB in the state but it is not the fault of the New York Racing Association. It is the natural evolution of a marketplace shaped by OTB, account wagering, technology and convenience. This is not a symptom of some greater problem or a decline in the size of the audience; it is the current state of a market which has never participated with more enthusiasm -- if enthusiasm is measured in money. With the migration of the audience, the method of keeping score has also changed.

There are better uses for space unused at both Aqueduct and Belmont Park. Aqueduct will eventually house a large video lottery facility. Belmont should be treated with a less vulgar hand. But those who bemoan the empty grandstands that stand now as monuments to an era long gone fail to see the forest for the trees. This is no longer an issue but, like suburban malls, cell phones and Internet shopping, a fact of life in the 21st century.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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BallHype: hype it up!

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