Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Raise High, the Prices, New Executive
There’s been a whole lot of talk, much of it negative, about the price increases that the New York Racing Association plans on implementing for admission. So much of the criticism is so banal, so short sighted, so “in the service of fans”, that people are losing their minds over $2.
Many of you know, but here’s the back story: the price of general admission for Saratoga and Belmont will go from $3 to $5 and the clubhouse prices will go from $5 to $8, barely more than a medium cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Comment writers, media folk, and columnists are about as radioactive on this as Chernobyl. You’d think this price hike was a climb up Everest when it’s barely a walk out to the mailbox.
If $2 makes the choice of whether to come to the track or not, then frankly NYRA doesn’t want that customer anyway. That customer, clamoring over $2, probably doesn’t bet much, probably sits around all day with the concessions they carried in, and is likely the person who complains the most about amenities.
Trim the weeds. Get rid of these folks; that’s the message, that’s the undercurrent. They’re high maintenance at too high a cost. I’ve seen enough un-ironic mullets at the racetrack. Give the college students a table and allow them to bring in beer and all you’ve done is create the most pristine beer pong tournament this side of UMass.
Jeff Scott, the only racing writer for the Saratogian worth reading
, cited an email from a patron who said, “With admission, the costly Daily Racing Form, Post Parade and such, the little guy is 20 dollars behind after going through the turnstile."
Daily Racing Form: Print it at home for $3 per card.
Post Parade: This is stupid and you shouldn’t buy it.
People are so easily insulted these days. Ready to be insulted.
Proven bettors are the ones who deserve a break at the gate. There’s no reason why a NYRA Rewards member can’t be granted free admission, so long as they have a record of actually playing the races. This is an easy solution and won’t alienate the three dozen people still playing the races.
But attendance trended down! How can you possibly expect to grow fans?!
My solution to this is to only race three days a week, up admission 10 times and guarantee, as humanly possible, the safety of the horses. But this would never fly. As for growing fans? Make the ones you have happy. Then they'll recruit from there.
Can you imagine the draw of a three-day racing weekend at Saratoga? Oh, man, my Spidey sense is tingling at the thought. Cut the piddly stuff. Make it Ascot. Make it Meydan. Make it the Breeders’ Cup every weekend. Make it the Saratoga of old. If horse racing has taught us anything in the past 10 to 20 years, it’s that less is more.
It’s no longer special if I can go every day. It’s not special if I can get in for $3. What experience can I expect for $3? Exactly, the one we’re already getting and, subsequently, deserve.
Upping the price of admission is a bold move at a time that screams the opposite. There’s a stance in retail that when you put things on clearance you knock a $50 item down to, say, $30 and see if it leaves. Doesn’t leave? Knock it down to $20. Still there? $10. Customers will hold out when they see this trend. They see you have no respect for the price tag, no respect for the product.
NYRA stands to scrape in $15,000 to $20,000 extra right off the top per day at Saratoga. I’d like to think they’ll use this cash to make the experience a $5-experience, not a $3 one. I’d love to see a dress code. I’d love to see three days of racing with 12 Grade 1s, then four days to recoup to address the facility with improvements for the next weekend. I’d like to see this money broadcast, not paid out as bonuses to the circle of trust.
Christoper Kay, NYRA’s CEO, has held the position for five months. People seem to be raking him over the coals for not improving the guest conditions yet. Give the man some time. Per capita spending is the goal. He’ll take 12,000 people spending $150 each over 25,000 patrons doing nothing but flushing the toilets all day long.
Look on the bright side, when it comes to this game, we really have nowhere to go but up, if only we’d get car’s starter fixed.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Monday, December 09, 2013
For Jockeys, More Pie … But None of the Weight Gain!
Javier Castellano is going for it and he’ll get it. What he’s going for, inflated a record as it is (look no farther than Curlin), is the earnings record previously held by the great Ramon Dominguez.
Castellano vies for his third straight Gulfstream riding title and, with 24 days remaining in 2013, Castellano needs just $8,850—a KIA—to surpass Dominguez’ mark of $25,634,852.
At a 10 percent commission, Castellano has earned $2.5 million. He’s made most of that in New York, where the taxes are noticeably high. He’s also made a chunk of that in Florida, so he makes out all right, one would presume. I can’t help but think that he, and every other jockey in the country, are grossly underpaid. Trainers too.
The thing with trainers, many of them own shares in horses they train, so in addition to their 10 percent purse cut, they get an owner’s share too. Often, this comes in lieu of "day money," but bettors would not be aware of any of this since trainers also can use stable names, creating the illusion of training for an outside client. But, hey, when in Rome...
Jockeys are beholden to 10 percent, take it or leave it, although some earn "outside fees," courtesy of deep pocketed owners who can afford to pay for the privilege. Castellano’s $2.5 million will be tops for a North American jockey, an athlete who works all year with little time off. A jockey’s vacation is a euphemism for injuries. John Velazquez and Calvin Borel are on vacation as we speak. Enjoy the Mai Tais.
Riding is the risk jockeys take and with no job security. As Velazquez painfully found out on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the races go on and the cash goes elsewhere.
The once-mighty Albert Pujols made $16,000,000 (the zeroes give these numbers more impact, in my opinion) in 2013. Over a 162-game season, that’s $98,765.43 per game. But he played only 99 yet still earned the same salary for $161,616.16 per game. Velazquez didn’t make a dime the rest of Breeders’ Cup day. Watching Wise Dan romp in a $2 million-race is an onion in the ointment.
Baseball players play from March and, if they’re on a competitive team, through October. Eight months on the high end, seven months on the low. Four to five months a year left to stay in shape, play some golf, decompress.
Jockeys don't have this luxury. The $25 million in purses Castellano earned is the upper end, making his cut laughably small as the top earner in a sport that's as dangerous as it is demanding.
Jockey haters will say, ‘This is what they signed up for!’ ‘They make plenty of money!’
But not really. A jockey at the top of his game can only earn $2.5 million? This is an insult.
The best jockeys should make no fewer than $5 million and the only way to do so is to bump up their pay and give them a fraction of the pot that reflects the immense risk they incur. A bump in pay to 15 percent is a 50 percent increase, but I’d take it, at the very least, a step farther to 20 percent—a full 100 percent bump in pay. In exchange, maybe they could then afford to pay for the own health insurance without industry help.
Castellano has had a relatively injury-free year, a good year by any standard, a condition that grants Castellano dual citizenship on Earth and Krypton. According to Equibase, he has 1,551 starts thus far. That’s $16,522 per mount, but even that is misleading since he only gets paid when he finishes in money positions.
On paper, you see these jockey earnings and it so desperately skews what they earn, think nothing of taxes and dues they pay to the Disabled Jockeys Fund. And lop about 25% off the top that goes to the agents that book their mounts.
Joel Rosario has earned $21,094,576 to date, making him the only other rider to reach the $20 million plateau this year.
If we’re being honest, 20 percent is still a bargain to watch these risk takers hop aboard swift horses, sometimes lame horses, running through mud, rain, snow and wind. More often than anyone cares to talk about, they get thrown, trampled, lose organs, faculties and, sometimes, eve their lives. All that for 10 percent of a winner's share?
Owners won't like the idea of sharing more of the purse with their riders. Of course, they could always take the reins themselves.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Monday, December 02, 2013
Taking Charge of Destiny
I’ve spent the past few weeks railing against the racing schedule
post-Breeders’ Cup. It appears to be a movement, ala Post Modernism. But if there was ever a weekend that justified racing after the Breeders’ Cup it was this past one. And it made one heck of an argument.
Up until Saturday Will Take Charge was likely on the short list for Champion Three-Year-Old. A loss would’ve made him a footnote in the race for an Eclipse. A win cemented it
Connections have little reason to run after the Breeders’ Cup, especially if the horses ran well. Will Take Charge ran 11 times in 2013 going all the way back to January 21 when he won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn.
He finished sixth in the Southwest and, four weeks later, won the Rebel. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, did what in hindsight, won his colt an Eclipse: He rested WTC for seven weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
During that time, from Mar. 16 to May 4, many horses ran at least one more race. But even at the time, it didn’t look like a brilliant program. WTC ran in all the Triple Crown races finishing eighth, seventh and 10th in Louisville, Baltimore and New York. That rest appeared to have backfired.
But some horses need time to grow and the Triple Crown strengthened Will Take Charge. He’d never finish worse than second the rest of the way. Second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy. Second to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic. Won the Travers. Won the PA Derby. Won the Clark.
“A damn good horse … ” Lukas said after the race. “(As a 2-year-old) he was a big, rangy horse that was still trying to find himself. We did the right thing. We had him pointed to the Kentucky Derby and I’ll go to my grave believing that we could have won the Kentucky Derby. After that, it set him back a little – that little trip in the Derby didn’t equate very good to the Preakness and the Belmont, which came up bang-bang. But then we had a little time to get him right again. I’d like to run the Kentucky Derby over again. With all respect to Shug (McGaughey) and Orb and Stuart (Janney) and Dinny (Phipps) but I really think we had a great shot at it that day.”
As we’ve seen a horse doesn’t have to be the best to win the Derby, he just has to be good enough that day, not to mention lucky. See Orb, Super Saver and Mine That Bird. Nobody confuses any of these horses with elite three-year-olds. Sometimes a true champ wins the Derby, but more often than not champion three-year-old is awarded to the rolling boil, not a flash in the pan.
What made Will Take Charge’s run to champion three-year-old special is this: He never won a Triple Crown race. You’d have to go back to Tiznow in 2000 to find the last three-year-old to win the Eclipse without winning a Triple Crown race. On that list, there are only six Derby winners. Of those six Derby winners, five won the Derby and Preakness (I’ll Have Another, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and War Emblem). Tiznow never ran in the Triple Crown at all.
Prior to Tiznow, there’s Charismatic, Silver charm, Real Quiet and Holy Bull, all horses who won at least one Triple Crown race. Skip Away and Tiznow mark the only two dating back 1996 that won the Eclipse without winning roses, susans, or carnations.
Will Take Charge—like Skip Away before him—had to shed the weight of having lost all three Triple Crown races (no small task given how heavy the voters lean on those classics).
It appears he has Champion Three-Year-Old locked up and he’s tied for second with Game On Dude for the second most wins in 2013—five. And WTC has beaten Game On Dude twice head-to-head. In the Horse of the Year running, only Wise Dan and Princess of Sylmar have more wins than Will Take Charge with six.
Were it not for racing after the Breeders’ Cup, Will Take Charge may have been empty-handed come Eclipse time. Thanks to his owner and his trainer, he may leave with two pieces of hardware.
They saw their destiny was in their hands and they ran with it. Boy, did they.
Written by Brendan O'Meara