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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Friday, August 24, 2007

Say a Prayer for Horse Racing - Handel is Pope Benedict

Hal Handel, like Pope Benedict XVI a stand-in potentate to bridge the succession of leaders after the departure of a charismatic figure, has signed a two-year agreement to be the New York Racing Associations chief operating officer.

This staffing appointment, the second over recent months (Gavin Landry as top sales and market development executive was the first), indicates that NYRA believes it has a future as Gov. Eliot Spitzer prepares to announce his recommendation on which group will run the Empire States racing operations when the current franchise expires on December 31.

NYRA dug into the good old boys club to hire Handel. But at 60 years of age, he probably has little to lose by accepting the shaky position anyway. NYRA CEO Charles Hayward, in a prepared statement, blew the clichd encomiums Handels way, describing him as one of the very best racing executives in the country which is like saying its possible to find something edible in a pile of over-ripened fruit.

Hayward, a genuinely good administrator, wouldnt appoint someone who didnt have qualifications, so be certain that Handel is a good hire. Nevertheless, the former New Jersey racing executives involvement in New York racing indicates that nothing much is likely to change. And sadly, despite the irrelevance of the sport to young people nowadays, thats the way the establishment wants it.

Written by Vic Zast

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Age before Brilliance

Sundays feature race at Saratoga the $80,000 Johns Call Stakes is for older horses, racing a mile and five-eighths on the grass. Did someone say older horses?

Revved Up, a nine-year-old gelding that has won 17 of his 38 starts, goes postward as the favorite in the Johns Call as if age were nothing more than a number.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast the same day, a mere child in comparison the six-year-old Lava Man - heads a full field of 13 in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He attempts to do what another aging multi-millionaire The Tin Man - couldnt, and thats win a Grade I for $1 million two years in a row. Last Saturday, the 8-year-old son of Affirmed was caught in the stretch of the Arlington Million, but looked every bit the winner until the five-year-old Jambalaya a veteran in training surged by him.

The early retirement of Funny Cide aside, there are several stout-hearted campaigners that continue to give horse racing fans thrills. Most of them are geldings or grass horses that run routes. True, its exciting to see a star emerge from the ranks of a new crop, but theres nothing more deflating than to watch them disappear in the blink of a comet.

Written by Vic Zast

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Timing New York’s Future on Fund-raising

For anyone whos wondering why the decision to name an operator for New York racing is taking so long, consider the upcoming schedule of political fundraisers that are to take place around Saratoga Racecourse in the upcoming week.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer would be foolish to cut off the candy from the competing groups during the season of good n plenty. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a master at extracting the do-re-mi from his constituents, seems to be in no hurry either to sing a swansong to the issue.

The heck with worries that a new operator will have only three months to renew contracts with providers whose contracts expire on December 31. Who cares if a community is on pins and needles as the future of their most precious economic asset is being made a political football by guys who dont know, or dont care, about anything but their own personal interests.

The Senate Republican Campaign Committees fundraiser for Bruno is scheduled for the Reading Room, across the street from the Racing Museum on August 22. The ticket costs $500 per person.
The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committees event, for $250 per head, is at former New York Racing Association Chairman Barry Schwartzs home on the same night. For $750, you can attend both, and many people, especially those with their franchise bids still in limbo, will.

But there are better places to spend your money in Saratoga, including Siros and the Wishing Well, or better yet, at the Belmont Child Care Association party ($150 per person) on Wednesday, Aug 22 or the Travers Celebration to benefit Backstretch Employee Services Team and the Double H Ranch ($300 per person) on Thursday, August 23.

Invest in people, not politicians, and youll feel better about yourself.

Written by Vic Zast

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Let Racing People Run Racing: A Dangerous Assumption

It is difficult, even for the most knowledgeable financial minds, to comprehend how Magna Entertainment Corp., a participant with Empire Racing in the bidding process, was ever considered an advantage to Empire in the Who will run New York Racing? run-off.

Earlier this week, Magna interim chairman and founder Frank Stronach announced that the Canadian-based company will stop its efforts to pursue new racetracks in Northern California and Michigan and will close a new racetrack it opened two years ago in Austria.

Stronach reported that Magna lost $23.7 million in the second quarter of 2007, adding to a previous $300 million loss suffered over the previous 11 quarters. Are racing fans who contend that New York racing needs to be run by racetrack companies, not casinos, accounting-challenged? More importantly, are they insensitive to pleasure and pain?

For the most part, racing people have done a poor job providing racings fan base with a product that encourages trial, develops loyalty and embraces change. Meanwhile, nobody who goes to Las Vegas for a weekend ever returns saying that the food wasnt good, the rooms were dirty, there was no fun to be had, or that they were treated poorly.

Leaping to the conclusion that horse racing is best off when racing people are in charge is a dangerous assumption, fashioned from a security of familiarity. If racing people land up with the New York franchise, theyd better look outside their own clique for someone who can help them manage it. At the very least, theyd better not look north.

Written by Vic Zast

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Panamanian Apprentice Arboleda Debuts at Arlington

Randy Romero, who rode 4285 winners during his injury-plagued career, believes that he has found a replacement for Fernando Jara, the Panamanian jockey who fired him as his agent once he became famous.

Apprentice Aldo Arboleda, 20, begins riding in North America today in Arlington Parks fourth race. Arboleda, another Panamanian, has mounts also in the sixth and the ninth. Romeros plans for Arboleda are to continue finding rides for him in Chicago until the Arlington meet ends there in mid-summer, and then move his tack to New York and eventually Florida.

Panama has an illustrious history as a breeding ground for great jockeys. Laffit Pincay, Jr., Braulio Baeza, Jorge Velasquez and Rene Douglas all hail from Panama. But Arboleda better have more than the right citizenship papers if he plans to stick around.

This kid is very, very, very good, said Romero to Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune. He is absolutely beautiful on a horse.

Romero, in dialysis for four hours three times each week, has plenty of time to mentor Arboleda. His intentions are reminiscent of the remarks which Jose Santos made when announcing his retirement earlier in the week. Santos said that as a young jockey he learned from Baeza and Velasquez and then later in his career was pleased to teach riders such as Bejarano and Jara on their way up.

Written by Vic Zast

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