The fact that the racing day is too long is in dispute nowhere. Every racing day that goes beyond 5:30 p.m. is a marathon for on-track patrons.
The problem with staging a record 420 races is that NYRA is motivated to be its own bridge track.
Or, put another way: "It's hard to run fewer races when you can maximize your profit," said trainer Rick Violette, President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's group and a NYRA board member, on Mark Cusano's "Down the Stretch" program Saturday morning.
In any case, the days of Saratoga being the “August Place To Be” consisting of nine race programs has become a quaint notion with the advent of simulcasting and horse racing as gambling fodder.
Card it, and they will bet.
In all likelihood, it was too much of this good thing that contributed to measurable decreases in handle and attendance, especially the latter. But compared to what?
"Saratoga is 35 percent of the national handle every day, it would be irresponsible to ignore [that fact]," added Violette. "[NYRA] is trying to hold the bottom line; be self-sufficient.
It is highly unlikely but not impossible that one day the Saratoga meet could run from July 4th through Labor Day but not anytime soon. For one, the town would have strenuous objections.
Saratoga racing, obviously, is world class. But it does not reduce the New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Philharmonic, and sold out events such as the upcoming Farm Aid benefit concert to the level of chopped liver.
Looking at the numbers year over year indicates that 2013 was not as successful as last year. But considering that last year's handle was up 14 percent, it would be unreasonable to expect that trend to continue. "Compared to the year before, handle would have been up 10 or 11 percent," Violette said.
If parimutuel handle and attendance are the only metrics that matter until something better comes along, absence and fonder hearts remain inexorably linked. Attracting 10,000 racing fans is plenty good for a Saturday at Belmont Park but is considered a disappointing weekday in Saratoga.
While some would credit the new 15% Pick Five for what NYRA termed a strong Belmont opening last Saturday, the fact there was no major league racing in the state for four days and no live sport in the metropolitan area for seven weeks matters--yet only 6,549 fans welcomed the horses back downstate.
What is scary is the fact that attendance increased by 42 percent over 2012.
As expected, the new wager was an instant success and has continued to draw strong support subsequently--but nowhere near where it is likely to be in 2014. The reality is that good things can happen when you keep bettors waiting, whether it's a week before racing resumes, or two years before making a 50-Cent Pick Five into a 15% pool a reality.
If one thing is clear, it's that it's extremely difficult to judge success or failure at Saratoga, or anywhere else, when disparate trends collide. It's like Violette said; finding the right answer to a problem is extremely difficult when the target keeps moving.
Exotic Payoffs at Affordable Prices
Low takeout Pick Fours and Pick Fives have proven popular virtually from inception. In keeping with that theme, a new Pick Four beginning at Belmont and ending at Penn National debuted this week and did not get left at the post.
Just over $59,000 was wagered in a 15% 50-Cent Pick Four linking the last two races from Elmont and the first two from Grantville--good considering it was up against a late double that stands on its own and as a saver vehicle for Pick Four and Pick Six players.
The handle, according to Penn National sources, was the third largest in that track’s history, trailing only two higher profile All-Stakes exotica.
Horse o' the Year Runs Today, Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah
Wise Dan is the 2-5 early line favorite to defend his title in the $1 million Woodbine Mile versus five rivals.
Wise Dan will carry “highweight” of 124 pounds, attempting to become the first horse to win the Ricoh Mile twice. The win would give trainer Charlie LoPresti his third straight Woodbine Mile, having saddled Turallure in 2011. Only Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale have won three renewals. Johnny Velazquez, seeking his fourth Woodbine Mile win, takes the re-ride.
Za Approval (4-1), trained by white hot Christophe Clement, ships from his New York base after finishing second to Obviously in the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park, June 29. Garrett Gomez, seeking his third WO Mile, will ride for the first time.
Four WO Mile prepsters have come back to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile but only Wise Dan won both races in the same year. Court Vision won both races did so in 2010 and 2011. The stakes record, set in 2009, of 1:32.04 belongs to the filly Ventura, the only female to win Canada’s most prestigious turf mile.