Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

And So the Breeders’ Cup Festivities Begin

(Louisville, KY – Wednesday, November 3, 2010) Seven of the 14 Breeders’ Cup race favorites were installed at morning line odds of 2-to-1 or lower. European invaders Midday in the Filly and Turf and Goldikova in the Mile are at 6-to-5. Zenyatta is 8-to-5 in the Classic.

Of the trainers most disappointed in their draws, Todd Pletcher didn’t like that Quality Road drew the post and Bob Baffert wasn’t pleased that Lookin at Lucky got the far outside. “It’s better than the one-hole,” Baffert said “If we’d drawn that I would have been getting bad vibes.”

The one-hole, of course, is where Lookin at Lucky started in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The unlucky son of Smart Strike – the Preakness Stakes winner – was squeezed tightly toward the rail and then bumped repeatedly between the start and the first turn in the Derby. He ultimately finished sixth. Listed in the morning line at 6-to-1 vs. Zenyatta on Saturday, the colt is one of five three-year-old runners in the Classic field.

A throng of reporters and cameramen greeted Zenyatta at the airport upon her arrival. The unbeaten mare had her photo on the front page of the newspaper. There’s no doubt that the Breeders’ Cup is a far bigger deal here in Kentucky than at Santa Anita in Southern California, although the weather will be 40 degrees cooler. Nevertheless, once most of the day’s race-related goings-on were over, the city seemed just like any other – concerned with the election results. The Tea Party candidate Rand Paul won the U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky, beating the son of a prominent horse owner.

Hotel headquarters for the press is the Galt House downtown. Tuesday was the first day the hotel’s media room was in operation. About 70 dinners were served, mostly to members of the foreign press. There are shuttle busses available to take people back and forth to the track. There’s an overhead passageway that leads to the new KFC Yum Center, a block away, where country star Toby Keith will headline a party on Thursday evening.

For those who can’t wait until then for a drink, tonight the National Turf Writers Association hosts its annual Awards Dinner at the Muhammad Ali Center. The group honors Neil Milbert of the Chicago tribune for writing, Michael Blowen of Old Friends for meritorious service and former jockey Richard Migliore for his spirit. That should get things officially rolling.

Vic Zast will post an item from Louisville each morning before 11:00 am.

Written by Vic Zast

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stickin’ to It

(CHICAGO, IL – October 30, 2010) It’s taken about four weeks for a topic I introduced in a previous column to come out from hiding. ( Regardless, the case for and against Zenyatta as the Horse of the Year is now in the realm where the big dogs roam.

The Daily Racing Form’s Steve Crist, one of two living horse racing writers with a plaque in the Hall of Fame, has chipped in with his take after reading that HRI’s John Pricci and Joe Drape of the New York Times, as well as trainer John Shirreffs, had opinions on this matter also. The vote in the court of supremes was 3 to 1 that the unbeaten mare is assured of the Eclipse Award no matter what happens next Saturday.

Crist identified Quality Road, Blame and Lookin at Lucky as potential winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic that would deny Zenyatta his vote. Suffice it to say, not one of these horses is a horse that anyone outside the sport has ever heard of, and, despite the anticipated national TV audience, will not have heard of next Sunday. Here, then, comes the interesting part. What exactly does Horse of the Year mean? And what good does it bring to the sport’s promotion?

To the gamblers who come to this site, it means nothing. To the horse racing fans, it’s a milepost. But to voters, it can mean getting your back up straight and expressing a truth you believe in. Note the emphasis on “truth you believe in.” The truth is that Zenyatta was dismissed from Horse of the Year consideration in 2008 after going unbeaten and winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and Curlin, the twice-beaten winner that year, won despite the excuse that he couldn’t run on grass and rubber bands.

What Crist, Pricci, Drape, Shirreffs or Zast, for that matter, think is marginally relevant. When decisions like this call for wide-ranging ballots, it’s the voices of the many that register. The upcoming midterm elections will prove that when something is put into people’s minds, no amount of logic will ever change it. So, too, Zenyatta’s fate as Horse of the Year is pre-determined.

As my column concluded on October 3 after the Lady’s Secret Stakes, “Win or lose at the Breeders’ Cup, Zenyatta became Horse of the Year by a neck at the wire with a quarter of the year yet to go. As for the long-awaited fate at stake in horse racing’s premium attraction, you can engrave the Horse of the Year title on Zenyatta’s vita.”

That’s the truth, as I wrote it, and I’m sticking to it.

Vote early and often on Tuesday.

Written by Vic Zast

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Paulick Report Takes Route Less Traveled

(CHICAGO, IL – October 22, 2010) The, horse racing’s self-proclaimed Huffington Post – a rare voice of controversy in an otherwise proper industry - has its admirers and detractors. But it would be unfair of anyone to say that the owners of the Internet site don’t know how to promote themselves.

For the second consecutive year, Ray Paulick and Brad Cummings are inviting their readers to donate to Breeders’ Cup Charities as they travel to the World Championships in a manner that nobody else is. En route to their destination, they’re showering themselves with attention that will put them a step ahead of their competition.

Last fall, Paulick, a reluctant flyer, and Cummings, his willing pal, drove by automobile from Kentucky to California stopping en route at racetracks. This year, they’re walking from Lexington to Louisville – 85 miles – probably stopping as soon as their bladders fill. You can donate whatever you’d like for every mile walked. Just visit the site and you can learn how to make your donation.

Navigating the can be like shopping the racks at TJ Maxx. You must sift through the merchandise to find that which suits you on aggregate sites. What Paulick is fully aware of, nonetheless, is that modern-day media is only as intriguing as the noise that it makes. He’s not shy in the least of making a racket, even if that means pounding the pavement.

Written by Vic Zast

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Penny Chenery’s Dress

(CHICAGO, IL – October 13, 2010) A friend to many horse racing fans is trying to mine gold with a pitchfork. Allan Goldberg, a 49-year-old New Yorker who loves sports of all kinds but especially those that involve four-legged animals you can bet on, remembered that he had something snuck away in his closet that might all of a sudden become interesting to people who are over the moon for the Secretariat movie.

That certain something is the authentic dress worn by the real Penny Chenery at Churchill Downs when her “Big Red” won the 1973 Kentucky Derby. The place to see it, or buy it, is Goldberg won an auction for the dress at a charity event he attended in 1999. He paid $4000 – it’s not schmata. But it didn’t cost Penny nearly that much – maybe $30. Still, because of her fame and now the movie, Goldberg believes that it’s worth a small fortune.

Goldberg seems to have a pretty good handle on what sells and what doesn’t. His Ebay profile identifies 634 transactions, mostly involving electronics. This item is a beige Lord and Taylor shirt-waist dress with belt and knee-length pleated skirt. There’s a matching collarless jacket to complete the ensemble. Don Draper would dictate the bets for women who’d wear a get-up like this and light their cigarettes – it exudes good taste and a sense of traditional place that’s no longer in vogue.

Typical of what you get from Goldberg on Facebook are unrealistic predictions about his beloved Detroit Lions and quotes from Einstein and The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible. The Internet huckster bought Chenery’s dress for his girlfriend to wear to the Derby. But, in the end, neither she nor the dress got to Louisville. Seems that whoever buys Goldberg's treasure on Sunday will be the first person to wear Chenery's dress in 37 years, unless Goldberg himself has worn it.

Written by Vic Zast

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Comment of the Week, Nick Kling’s #11

It was strange that readers, who took the side of truth over "truthiness," had to defend themselves. Several comments promoted the idea that it's okay for newsmakers to flavor the facts in their favor when reporting on company performance. Nick Kling, who has seen his share of good and bad media communications as a sportwriter for the Troy Record, wrote in Comment No. 11 how he viewed the current state of the art after contributing new information in Comment No. 2 that explained why attendance at Saratoga fell off considerably several years ago. Here's his "Comment of the Week," a response to the opinion of another reader, in its entirety.

Nick Kling says:
14 Sep 2010 at 10:03 am | #

I get what you are saying, but there was an obvious change in NYRA’s press releases this year. It was so egregious that anyone covering the meet would have to have been blind to miss it and derelict in their duty not to write about it.

In previous years NYRA’s announcements about attendance and handle were straightforward, with very little embellishment or spin. About the only clarifications would be: 1)inclusion of stats about how the giveaway days inflated or deflated the comparisons to previous years, and, 2) comments comparing number of rain days and off-the-turf races.

This year every release about business stats contained frippery like the following: “Wagering on races at Saratoga Race Course surpassed advance projections, decisively outpaced industry trends, and dominated handle on thoroughbred racing nationwide.”

Some of the quotes attributed to NYRA President Charley Hayward sounded so silly I would have been embarrassed to have my name attached to them.

Finally, I can tell you certain NYRA operatives felt the same way. They too were embarrassed that the press office was issuing such stupidity, as if someone would believe it. One person told me, “When I got an email from my mother (about how stupid the releases were) I knew we had gone too far.”

So, if you consider writing about that “nonsense,” you might want to reconsider. I call it doing my job.

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