Friday, July 16, 2010

Fat or Muscle?

It’s old versus new.

One meet added four days to its meet, the other took four days off a week.

Saratoga starts its 142nd racing meet in six days and it will be interesting to see which model will win out.

Monmouth is halfway through its major experiment of cutting back its racing days. It’s as if Monmouth put a tooth under their pillow only to find a gold brick resting there in the morning.

According to a story in The Blood-Horse, average attendance is 10,572 and on-track handle is $752,718 — that’s about $72 per person. That’s not entirely impressive per cap, but total handle is up 118 percent to $7,672,255.
“Everyone at the Sports Authority had high hopes for this bold experiment,” said Dennis R. Robinson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. “To say at the midway point that this meet has been a success is an understatement. We’re cautiously optimistic that the second half of the Elite Summer Meet will continue to exceed all expectations.”

For the following seven weeks, Monmouth will be competing with Saratoga for the betting dollar. As it stands, the track by the shore had an edge: it has got a beefed up racing product with no major competition. Saratoga, now, is major competition.

Saratoga’s first weekend, which kicks off on Friday, July 23, has the Schuylerville, the Betfair TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and the Sanford. The following weekend will have the Diana, the Jim Dandy, the Ruffian and the Fourstardave.

Saratoga’s second weekend butts up against Monmouth’s $1 million Haskell Invitational, which, given its convenient four-week spacing, marks itself as a more lucrative prep for the Travers than the $500,000 Jim Dandy. More clams for everyone.

Monmouth plans to use the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, on July 24, to steal away attention from Saratoga’s first-of-seven Saturdays in the Lady’s Secret Stakes.

I’m curious to see just how much that $7 million bet on Monmouth gets slashed when Saratoga opens its gates. It’s like a pie: There’s only so many slices and I don’t see enough betting dollars around to keep Monmouth’s roller coaster turning corkscrews.

Saratoga’s handle is monstrous and its per cap betting is always in the neighborhood of $150 on-track. But when it matters — on the weekends — is where we’ll see which model rules. Will people tune into Monmouth’s stakes-heavy weekend like the seven it has carded for Sunday, August 1? Or will Saratoga’s traditional card of two strong stakes, allowance races and claiming races win out?

If Monmouth takes a significant betting dollar on the weekends then that is proof that the product on the track matters. That will prove that horse players (some, not all) still want to put their money on the best athletes in the sport.

For my money, that’s where I go because 1. I don’t have much and 2. It’s more exciting than nickel claimers. It just is.

I’m just as excited to see how both will fare against one another. For decades it’s been the same old thing. Now it looks like Monmouth has been in the gym developing this beautiful body in secret. Monmouth is making heads turn now, no doubt about that, a horse racing ugly duckling story.

No matter the outcome or the victor, the winner is the game of horse racing. Summer 2010 could be the best summer of racing any fan or horse player has seen in a long, long time.

The Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer, is out, but Super Saver and Lookin’ At Lucky are primed to meet in the Haskell. Rachel Alexandra returns to the scene of her smashing Haskell victory from a year ago. Zenyatta still makes monster strides out west and Quality Road looms a tremendous threat. Mine That Bird will look to reclaim some of that luster from a year ago. Like a good tomato or watermelon, summer time brings with it great seasonal varietals.

Monmouth looks pretty good these days. We’ll soon see whose model reigns supreme.

Still, Saratoga is Saratoga and even though it gained a few pounds to the tune of those four racing days, the jury is out as to whether it’s fat or muscle.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, July 09, 2010

The Uninspiration of July Horse Racing

I, along with three friends, Ms. Carryover among them of course, meandered into The Stadium Café on Broadway here in lovely Saratoga Springs.

Once seated, we looked up to find LeBron James in mid-interview with a bunch of pimply-faced kids in the background. Soon enough he announced that he would sign with the Miami Heat. He said it with as much excitement as a man at the alter saying, “I do.”

It made for good television, I suppose, but what did Zenyatta say when she came back? That’s right. Nothing. Strange, since she’s a woman.

I kid, I kid.
But you know who did a lot of talking? Jockeys. Don’t you love it when 5-foot-nothing jockeys talk about 6-foot-something athletes? Thank you New York Racing Association.

In a video showcasing the opinions of several NYRA jocks, Rajiv Maragh had James at even money to go to the Heat. Channing Hill, also had James going to the Heat. Hill may know a thing or two about jumping ship: he moved his tack form New York to California not too long ago, but finds himself back in New York. Just leave the door unlocked for him.

“Somebody’s gotta take on the Lakers and if they (the Heat) get LeBron, they are the only people that can take on the Lakers,” Hill said.

NYRA even hit up Jean-Luc Samyn, the same jockey who just keeps on keepin’ on.

“I wish like all of us that he would come to New York,” he said, “my source says that the Miami Heat is where he’ll end up.”

For all of ESPN’s coverage and bantering on this topic, couldn’t they have just tapped into this relatively unknown jockey colony down in Elmont? The answer, of course, is no, because who really cares what jockeys have to say?

Unless it’s Ramon Dominguez. This guy is positively in the zone. He is in the money 56 percent of the time at Belmont Park and has all but sealed up yet another Leading Rider Title.

“I like LeBron to go to New York Knicks,” Dominguez said.

Hmmm, stick to riding horses.

Can you imagine any other athlete garnering this kind of attention? Well, in a way, Curlin did when owner Jess Jackson announced that he would be making his triumphant return for a 4-year-old campaign. Curlin’s Dubai World Cup ranks as one of the all-time great races. He never had a quicker turn of foot than he had in that race. He was never quite the same after (though still head and withers above any other North America horse).

At this time of year there lacks a true thread, anything to hang one’s hat on. Sure, there’s the action at New York City OTB but really, is that exciting? Nah, not so much.

Saratoga is just a few furlongs away and that too is nice, but to do some sort of a “Saratoga Preview” is both trite and boring. Who really cares who may be running in the Travers? Dumb. That’s right. Dumb.

First Dude to the Haskell? That’s something to write about. He nearly stole the Belmont Stakes this year. Couldn’t have asked for a better ride from Dominguez.

“I like LeBron to go to New York Knicks.”

Stop it, please.

But with that asphalt they run over there at Monmouth on Haskell Day, First Dude should have first run at $1 million.

There is at least one thing I’m happy about: the Rachel Alexandra v. Zenyatta talk has, at last, ceased.

I’m throwing the hammer down. No. More. RA v. Z commentary until both their names are in the entry box for the same race. Done.

With that said all the tired talk of NBA free agency, MLB All Star Game snubs, and the argument for best mare in America can end for a while.

Uninspriing? Perhaps, but that’s the state of the sport in this month leading up to Saratoga and Del Mar.

In the meantime, I’ll borrow a line from The Most Interesting Man in the World: Stay thirsty, my friends.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Here, have some Zoloft

Horse racing is depressed.

That cannot be confused with ‘depressing,’ though that is often the case, Ernie. Think about it: What other sport’s media commentary is so mired in ‘what the sport can do to get better.’

Poor sport. Perhaps all it needs is a friend, a willing ear, a pat on the back, a shot of Jack, a gaming summit!
There has been lots of talk at the New York Gaming Summit. Most of which seems somewhat boring and acting like the ice in a tumbler of good scotch: chilling and watering down the product with every waning second.

But one such note, that your very own John Pricci writes about in his Morning Line column, that expanded gaming is tantamount to the success of horse racing in New York.

A full-scale casino is in the works for the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, which, as Mr. Pricci says, rests just a few furlongs away. If that doesn’t seem like a threat, know that where I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts many people made trips to either Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods for a fun night and that was hours away, not just one hour away.

So what is the Empire State to do? And, more importantly, what will become of the Triforce of racetracks: Big A, Big Sandy, and the Spa?

For one, identify horse racing for what it is: a legalized gaming sport, just another game of chance, albeit somewhat more calculated.

I’d like to see the tracks turn into casinos with table games, roulette wheels, poker tables, and black jack tables. Horse racing will just be another game to play and collect dollar bills.

There will be high roller rooms and just think, Saratoga’s Curlin Café could be put to good use with $1,000 minimum black jack. Hit me. 16. Hit me. 18. Hit me. 23. And if some of these tables overlook the track maybe they’ll get distracted and hit on 19.

The Connecticut Sun, yes a WNBA franchise, play at a casino. Why can’t horse racing be the same sporting event that takes place in and among the morally lecherous activity of gambling, excuse me, gaming? Think of the crossover potential. That annoying loose change in your pocket after you cash that winning Daily Double ticket? Throw it into a slot machine. Everyone wins! ... except you, because you just got hosed. But did you? You’ve been imbibing Heineken and gin and tonics all afternoon. You hit the Pick 3. You lost your shirt and won it back.

The rewards potential is awfully enticing as well. Sitting down at a table with a losing horse racing ticket can be a voucher for X amount of dollars per ticket. Or the other way around. Sitting down at a black or poker table grants you betting vouchers at the windows.

Better still would be the legalization of sports betting. As someone who spends most of his mornings in a Las Vegas sports book a few days every March, having sports parlays available while playing the races is what YOU do.

There’d be nothing like playing the Late Pick 4 at Belmont ending with the Jockey Club Gold Cup and snaking in a parlay with Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and USC football on the same day. Women’s field hockey? Why not, just give us an honest line.

But then again, we won’t, because things in New York State move as fast as Chip Woolley in his crutches.

So the money will drip out of New York like an IV bag into its neighbors’ veins. New York needs some serious dough and people will be willing to make it rain outside its borders.

So horse racing remains depressed. And, really, what better way to build up one’s self esteem than by giving it a bunch of tokens, a free drink, and saying, ‘Go have fun.’ It’s fool proof!

Beats medicating.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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