Not so racing columnists Nick Kling, Paul Moran, and John Pricci, whose recent pieces reflected their author’s worries that this year’s Saratoga meet might not only have worn out writers and workers, but playing race watchers as well.
In It’s a wrap at Saratoga 144, Mr. Kling wrote, “It's over. The 144th Saratoga Thoroughbred meet concluded Monday, 1,104 hours and 417 races after it began.
… Everybody loves the Spa season, and it beats the pants off most of the racing in the rest of America. Nevertheless, many have a guilty feeling of relief the meet is over.
The common theme is that were too many races, punctuated by an overabundance of cheap class levels which is not what Saratoga is supposed to be about. Several people have told me how they were worn out before the end of the card. Fans exiting early became a common sight this year.
… The seeming contradiction between on-track and total handle is evidence of the aforementioned on-track fatigue.”
In Where does Saratoga go from here? , Paul Moran opined, “… this meeting was one of overextension in every sense; far too many races, days too long, and six-day weeks do not lend themselves to a festive atmosphere…
“By the meeting's fifth week, Labor Day could not come soon enough. Based upon the standard nine-race weekday and 10-race weekends, NYRA crammed the equivalent of more than 47 days of racing into 40. It did not pay off unless the point was to clear the grounds early and alienate both fans and staff.”
In Vox Populi and Streams From the Subconcious, Mr. Pricci suggested, “… when compared to a typical downstate race-week, five days per week with 10 on weekends—Saturdays, anyway—it was as if 7-1/2 weeks were condensed into 6-1/2.
“… For the most part, despite one additional day this year, attendance was flat.
“... We were dead wrong about the projected handle. It’s the sense we had by watching people leave the track in significant numbers two or three races before the finale.
This, in a sense, underscores the belief of many wagering theoreticians that there’s a finite amount of betting money to be spent in any one session, whether that time frame is nine of 12 races long.”
I submit that what these gentlemen witnessed was a combination of the effects of 1) the extended life expectancy for aging horseplayers, 2) the likelihood that many attendees among the locals have a life outside the racetrack, and 3) the psychology of the unrebated player; the relevancy of which can be expressed by paraphrasing Amanda Mc Broom in her song, “The Rose:”
“When the losses are too frequent
And the bankroll is too small
And you think winning is only
For the lucky and the rich...”
I can speak with some authority on the loneliness of the long-distance horseplayer. One year during the ‘60s, I attended every day of the Saratoga meet -- losing over the first two weeks, and winning over the last two, but unable to show a profit with the costs of travel, parking, admission, Past Performances, and programs factored in. My rent for August had already been paid, and I would have had to eat my own cooking that month no matter what. When it was over, I decided to show up for my new job as planned.
Almost a decade later, I took a vacation during the last 2 weeks of Saratoga and stayed on for Belmont until my winning streak ended. Even after expenses, I flew home with more than I left with, and a memory that time seems to have enhanced. The IRS, however, eventually made short work of the former since I had little free time available to lose some of it back that year.
Do Winners Get Weary?
Unfortunately, others here will have to testify. I haven’t been back to Saratoga since, and I’ve never had another opportunity to immerse myself in the game for more than a weekend nor enjoyed the same extended success.
Fatigue wasn’t a factor over four weeks and some 200 interesting handicapping puzzles for a fellow in his 20s or 30s but these days I can’t even handle two successive days of immersion into the Breeders’ Cup races. Luckily, however, Zenyatta raced in the Saturday events the last two years of her career.
Last year, the racing gods seemed determined to frustrate what could have been my best-ever performance as a handicapper. Does Turallure – ALL mean anything to you? Fortunately, Drosselmeyer enabled me to end the day on a high note.
Had I actually achieved such a score in my younger days, I hope I’d have immediately started handicapping the next day’s Pick Six. But wait! That wager didn’t exist back then and NYRA didn’t race on Sundays.
I suppose that I would have had to be single as well: A woman’s wariness can be a greater obstacle than a man’s when it comes to extending unexpected winnings.
I’ve since learned that too much racing, with too many wagering options, subject to a too-high takeout rate that requires too large a bankroll doesn’t represent opportunity for the recreational player. Worse, it leads to wariness among would-be wager makers.
Was Bob Ehalt’s column, “More Saratoga would be a good thing targeting the tiring, turf-writing trio above, or was he trying to titillate his readers with tongue–in-cheek testimony? Whatever his motivation, his willingness to alliterate is always welcome.
“Another sensational season at Saratoga has slipped away…and there’s one particular question begging for an answer.
“Could there be too much of a good thing?
“…The final attendance and wagering figures reflect that the Spa’s charm is hardly growing old.
“…So what will Team Cuomo do with a track that attracts 22,526 fans a day and handles $14.7 million a day in wagers? They’ll no doubt try to maximize or enhance revenue from the Spa …
“…So why not dispose with the pretense and make Saratoga the summer-long home of New York racing, and conduct the meet from the Fourth of July through Labor Day?
“…Horsemen and track workers may not like being away from home for two months, but it’s the fans that propel the sport …”
Even if a) Saratoga were somehow able to balance the demand for its resources for all its attractions during that period, b) the bankrolls of unrebated bettors were able to go the distance, c) the eyes of the young at heart didn’t glaze over at the sight of PPs for NY-breds, d) the turf course held up for eight weeks of turf sprints, and e) Mr. Pricci’s Diary remained a daily resource, the gains from Saratoga could be offset by losses at Belmont -- both pre- and post-Saratoga -- once something really special became commonplace.
Anticipation is defined as “an emotion involving pleasure, excitement, and sometimes anxiety in considering some expected or longed-for good event.” It is synonymous with enthusiasm, eagerness, and hope. It’s what Saratoga is all about. It’s what Aqueduct had going for it when horses still migrated South with the birds in winter.
I wouldn’t say that Mr. Ehalt’s proposal is for the birds, but it might just kill the Golden Goose.