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Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Friday, July 22, 2011


Forget Your Troubles, Come On, Get Happy, Get Ready for Opening Day


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 21, 2011--As one might expect, everyone around these parts is set for Opening Day at the Spa and Thoroughbred racing’s second season.

Del Mar had a wonderful opening on Wednesday, setting an attendance record of over 46,000, an occurrence that’s become routine in recent seasons. Of course, a better test comes today, Day 2.

That used to be the case at Saratoga, too, when the traditional opening of the New York racing week, Wednesday, was followed by the Spa’s second day, historically its worst day.

Then last year, when the opening was shifted to Friday to accommodate an elongated 40-day meet, Day 2 was excellent: Thoroughbreds Own Saturdays, something that the entire industry should endeavor to brand.

On Tuesday, 117 Thoroughbreds were entered for the opening day card, the four turf races proving the most popular if field size is the measure.

The meet opens with a grassy early double in which 13 horses including an entry and an oversubscribed 15 entrants in the day’s second event.

The four-day opening weekend whets the appetite for stand that will last until Labor Day and as for prime time racing, Saratoga is still “the August place to be.”

Saratoga’s first two Saturday’s in July are not to be disparaged, however, not with the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks slated for this weekend and the G1 Diana and G2 Jim Dandy combining for a juicy double bill July 30.

With 1,800 horses stabled in the immediate vicinity of the race course with another 1,200 turned away, racing’s horse shortage will get a respite here for the next six and a half weeks.

This is the reality that cheerfully conflicts directly with declining trends throughout an industry that has been showing some willingness of late to address problems such as raceday medication head-on.

And you know what happens when various industry factions begin to knock heads in this business? Does an entry of rancor and chaos come to mind?

This Tuesday, August 26, the Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International will hold a meeting to consider industry opinion on current regulatory drug policy.

RCI Chairman William Koester has proposed the phasing out of Salix as a raceday medication, an opinion shared by the Jockey Club and Breeders‘ Cup Ltd., to name just two influential groups.

But while they have not broken ranks entirely, trade organizations such as the NTRA, TRA, and most horsemen’s groups have raised questions--if not straight up objections--regarding a proposed policy change.

“The central question for regulators is the extent to which the removal of this medication on those days a horse actually races would pose any significant equine health risk,” said RCI President Ed Martin said.

The problem is that the question of a “significant” equine health risk is at odds with the business of racing, what it means to breeders and, most directly at the bottom line, what it means to owners, trainers and the racetracks.

No one will volunteer this publicly, but these two issues, the business of racing and the health of its participants, are at odds, but there is dialogue.

Both the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn. and the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Assn. have been invited to Tuesday’s meeting.

On Wednesday night, the National Museum of Racing held its annual and the dichotomy on this issue was never more apparent.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was on the panel and said Zito that while he doesn’t favor of a lot of medication in racing, he thought the industry needed more information about the effects of Lasix before making a decision

The information is already out there, of course, and Zito did not expound on how much a lot is, in a Saratogian post on the issue. It simply depends on what you want to do about it. To his credit, Zito and his wife Kim are very active in horse rescue efforts.

Defending Saratoga training champion and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher did not qualify his remarks, saying in the same post that “I am 1000 percent for Lasix. It’s good for horses, it’s good for owners, and it’s good for the betting public.”

As to the recent Breeders’ Cup announcement that it intends to eliminate raceday Salix beginning in 2013, Pletcher said that owners of horses that bleed “will obviously have to look for other options.”

That option, of course, is time. And time, as everyone knows, is money.

New York Racing Association President Charlie Hayward responded to the question by shooting various messengers, saying the Lasix issue is comparable to past discussions regarding synthetic racing surfaces, categorizing opponents as “zealots.”

Hayward had some promising news in that if VLT revenues live up to projections, the NYRA would request New York State to lower parimutuel take-out in order to compete with other forms of gambling.

Saratoga, widely acknowledged as this country’s most prestigious extended race meet, currently ranks 11th on the Track Ratings list of the Horseplayers Association of North America that measures bettor friendliness.

An interesting aside is that the Jockey Club recently asked HANA to conduct a fan poll regarding the continued use of raceday medication.

Today Saratoga opens its gates for the 143rd time, and that’s reason enough to stop and celebrate. They'll be plenty of time to address racing’s issues on Tuesday.

Written by John Pricci

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