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, September 06, 2011

Saratoga 142: HRI Awards of Special Recognition

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 6, 2011--With the exception of the sometimes endless 11- and 12-race programs, in some ways it’s hard to believe that the Saratoga 2011 race meet is over.

Just like that.

I understand how the time-flies phenomenon intensifies with advancing age, but the notion the next race from New York anyone will see will be happening at Belmont Park on Long Island.

So, before HRI jumps on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup, here are a few indelible impressions of a Saratoga race meet recently past.

Bullet Proof Spa Defies Industry Trends The only thing you need to know about the Saratoga brand is this: Wagering nationwide was down 12.3% in August while betting on-track at Saratoga increased 5.6% from 2010.

All-sources handle also made for a glaring comparison despite the fact this was the only category in which numbers were lower, down 4.6% year over year, but approximately 63% better when compared to the national numbers.

What may be easier to riddle, however, is the fact that attendance was up, depending on which set of numbers is more valid. Total attendance for the 39-day meet--the Sunday post-Travers program, usually a good day owing to post-event syndrome, was canceled due to Tropical Storm Irene--was 0.7% less than 2010.

However, factoring in that 2010 was a full 40-day meet, compared to this year’s 39, daily average attendance, including premium giveaway days, of 22,253 was up 1.8%. Pro-rating the attendance figures does seem more like a Hand melons-to-Hand melons comparison, anyway.

NYRA CEO Charles Hayward posited that on-track attendance and handle were up due to the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting, whereby down-staters drove upthe Thruway to see and bet on the live Saratoga action.

Given current industry realities, it’s as good an explanation as any.

Versus v. Apathy Another factor behind the positive numbers could be the national coverage the race meet received from NBC’s Versus cable network, which will be re-branded as the NBC Sports Network in 2012.

The special Saratoga features on Versus, given the network quality production values, showed what a special place Saratoga is to go racing, a place where even claiming sprints somehow seem special. The competitive nature of this meet also seems to produce more close finishes. That's the perception, anyway.

What Does Todd Pletcher Do For An Encore Even though Pletcher does not train every horse in America--although it often seems that way---he dominates the high-profile race results like no other Eastern-based trainer we’ve ever seen. The negative is that his horses attract a lot of money, making many races unbettable except in the vertical and horizontal pools.

Pletcher’s horses almost always make a great appearance and generally run to those looks. His 38 winners eclipsed the record he set last year. This was his eighth Saratoga training title.

Is Chad Brown The Next Pletcher? Next best at 22 winners for the meet, the feeling is that Brown has made the transition from newcomer to major player faster than anyone.

A former assistant to the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, it’s evident that he’s learned his lessons well. Brown wins with every manner and style of horse, although he seems particularly adept with turf runners. Given his mentor, this does not qualify as an upset.

You Can Go Home Again A native of the Capital District’s Mechanicville, Brown received a lot of local publicity during this year's race meet. But it was Saratoga Springs native Terri Pompay who stole the show on closing day by saddling her first ever Grade 1 winner, Hopeful hero Currency Swap, who was an impressive maiden winner over the track earlier at the meet. Pompay hopes to ride Currency Swap all the way to Louisville and the juvenile championship.

Tomorrow: The Riding Title, the Horses, and the people who own them

Written by John Pricci

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