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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Equestricon Breaks Quickly for the Fans, Less So For Players

SARATOGA SPRINGS, August 15, 2017—As trade shows go, depending on how much time and passion is devoted to the effort, what you see is exactly what you get. Whether it be trains, boats, cars, or comedians, standard are usually met.

In that context--and in that context only—when I left the Saratoga City Center, my socks remained right where they were when I put them on this morning.

But considering this is horse racing we’re talking about, it was difficult for true lovers of Thoroughbred sport--whether they were first attracted by the horse, the spectacle or the gambling, not to walk away captivated.

What was so impressive was that it happened in the first place. It was something that veteran racetrackers never thought they would see.

So the fact that Equestricon did happen made it an unqualified success. If one wanted to parse those words, the observer would say it was a very worthy first effort. It was the kind of debut that in time could move horse racing forward despite its many impediments.

We could not spend more than several hours a day on Monday and Tuesday but wanted to feel the atmosphere.

After cruising all the exhibits, many belonging to “signature event partners,” we thought the event was in the main nicely attended, especially considering Monday was a racing day.

We noted many of the organizations that one would have expected to see at a horse racing convention: America’s Best Racing, Breeders’ Cup, Daily Racing Form, National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame, NYRA and TVG.

Other lesser-tiered partners were racetrack organizations; the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Keeneland, The Stronach Group and Woodbine.

We spent time at three conferences. The first was “Racing Media: Past, Present and Future.” We arrived during the session and assume that past media was addressed before taking our seat.

There were no Racing Form people on this panel--although Matt Bernier did moderate “Big Scores on Big Days,” sponsored by Kentucky Downs. The point of emphasis we witnessed was how best to attract future fans; the consensus was via social media.

“Racing has been slow to embrace some of the newer technology,” offered one media panelist.

There were readily recognizable television and radio electronic media personalities among a group that also included representatives from “The New York Times,” “Saratoga Special” and online magazine “Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.”

There was a strong number of ownership and racing outfits represented at the convention, too, a group consisting of West Point Thoroughbreds, Centennial Farms, Sagamore Racing, Stonestreet Farms, Bradley Thoroughbreds and Kirkwood Stables.

The august Jockey Club was among the missing brands despite the fact that the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was the event’s official charity partner: Curious.

The truly enjoyable part for me was the Author series featuring multi-faceted, award-winning journalist Bill Nack and Team Secretariat, including jockey Ron Turcotte.

As I walked in, Secretariat was on a monitor, about to be “moving like a tremendous machine.” When he reached the finish line, a room full of people began to applaud. For lovers of the game, it was a chilling moment.

When it comes to story-telling, there are few authors on the planet who can hold a candle to Nack. His great, late friend Frank De Ford was one, colleague Tony Kornheiser another. It wasn’t long before Nack was reaching into the recesses of memorable experience.

“Jack Nickalus, the great golfer, was telling me this story about a conversation he had with Woody Broun…” Nack, of course, was referencing Hayward Hale Broun; author, actor, sportswriter and commentator. “You remember him,” said Nack, “he wore those colorful plaid jackets…

“Nicklaus was not a racing fan but he followed Secretariat through the Triple Crown. As Secretariat bounded down the stretch at Belmont Park, Nicklaus told Broun, ‘I got down on all fours and started pounding the rug--go, go--and then there were tears rolling down my cheeks. I don’t understand it, why did I start crying?

“Broun said, ‘Jack, you’re a golfer, a great golfer, and you’re always striving for perfection. Well, you just saw it’.”

Nack was asked “If you could describe Secretariat in one word, what would it be?” Nack didn’t answer immediately and fielded a few more questions before somebody came back to the original question. “One word?” Nack looked skyward, then back at the audience.

“Divine,” he said. More applause.

On Tuesday morning I was up early to attend the HANA talk. I thought it was great that someone thought to include a horseplayers’ organization at a first ever horse racing convention. Unfortunately, I left disappointed.

On the panel, moderated by Churchill Downs simulcast host, Joe Kristufek, was Theresia Muller, a founding member of the Horseplayers Association of North America, Eclipse Award-winning Handicapping Champion, Paul Matties, and board member Jerod Dinkin.

The credentials of these individuals are impressive, each with a deep understanding and knowledge of racing’s myriad problems; issues that have a profound effect on the player. The panel was thoughtful and sincere, its leaders less so.

I sincerely hope there were no health or family issues that prevented HANA President Jeff Platt from attending the debut of his organization at Equestricon. Personal issues notwithstanding, his absence was stunning.

I made a comment about it during a Q and A session at the end of the presentation but no explanation was offered. Keeneland’s offensive takeout hike was mentioned by a panelist almost immediately. “That was a real kick in the butt,” said another.

I wondered aloud why no one mentioned the “B word,” boycott as a possible course of action. I was told that influential mega-players, such as Mike Maloney of Lexington, have been contacted and that he and others are working behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, the takeout ship has already sailed, so I’m a little dubious about the negotiation process at this late date.

I asked, too, if anyone thought rebates were fair, explaining that I’m a small player who bets about $50,000 annually and that I didn’t think it was fair to be rewarded in nickels-and-dimes player rewards while whales got rebated in dollars.

Answers were not forthcoming which is not surprising. How can HANA be an effective ombudsman if it also wants to be part of the racing community at large? Watchdogs are not supposed to sit at a round table with an industry it’s supposed to be monitoring.

Horseplayer advocates should be sitting across the table from industry stakeholders. If not, it’s inherently conflicted--not White House-sized conflict but nevertheless at cross purposes with the people it is chartered to represent.

Written by John Pricci

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