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 MSNBC.com, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for ESPN.com, 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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Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Day Late, $1 Million Short


When Louisiana Downs announced that it would increase its purse 100 percent to $1 million if any Triple Crown race winner that would participate in its Super Derby, one reader wrote to remind me that I suggested in an earlier blog item that Arlington Park do the same thing..

Well, Im flattered that he remembered my idea, but theres a big difference between the Louisiana Downs initiative and what Arlington had available in terms of a similar offer.

The publicity accruing to Louisiana Downs alone makes its bonus gesture productive. When I advised Arlington to be proactive with the owner and trainer of Street Sense, the racetrack was enjoying early season success at the turnstiles and Street Sense was the hot topic of the day coming off a brilliant win in the Kentucky Derby. We live in an age when putting your name in front of people is more important than saying something meaningful. An effort on the part of Arlington would have created fan interest, even if the effort had a slim chance of resulting in Street Senses re-appearance in Chicago.

The owners of Curlin seem the most likely to jump on the Super Derby offer, especially if the Preakness winner needs time after the Haskell and bypasses the Travers. The owner and trainer of Street Sense, however, might have been intrigued with an Arlington initiative for other reasons. Theres a natural attachment between Jim Tafel, the Chicagoan who owns the Jim Dandy winner and Arlington Park, where he spends time in the Turf Club weekly. Moreover, Nafzger is one of those rare owners who understand the rightful place of owners in the game its because of their money that everything develops. Its nonsense to suggest that trainers alone should call the shots about picking the spots for horses to run.

Lets applaud Louisiana Downs for giving its fans a reason to get excited. Lets give Arlington Park the thumbs down for being its usual self too proud in its behavior for its own good.


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Thursday, July 26, 2007


Sheikh, Sheikh, Sheikh…Sheikh Your Booty


Not everyone in Saratoga is talking about how the favorite stacks up in the second race. Believe it or not, theres talk about the Breeders Cup.

One horseman who spends the winter in Dubai was blah-blah-blahing about how the Breeders Cup is trying to get Sheikh Mohammed to sponsor a Breeders Cup two-day festival at Meydan the new racetrack cum equestrian center cum hotel complex cum residential community that is scheduled to open in 2010.

When Meydan opens the Sheikh is boosting the purse of the Dubai World Cup held in March to $10 million. The British are worrying that hell make fall racing in the UK obsolete by scheduling a competing October Dubai meet. Perhaps its wise for American racing to understand the fallout from competing with a man that has endless financial resources and start now to plan its response.

On the other hand, maybe theres nothing to worry about. American horsemen wont travel 300 paces from their barns to the racetrack now for $1 million. Whats to say another $9 million would get them to travel half way across the globe?


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Hayward, an Anomaly


Racetrackers of a certain age can now say that theyre seen everything. The first wonder of the racing world to make an unbelievable impression on them was Secretariat. The second was the wrongful disqualification of Allumeuse. And the third may be Charlie Hayward.

The New York Racing Association CEO earned his stripes as a reformer when appointed to the job in 2004. But after settling into his job, hes become a champion for integrity, common sense, and the little man. Can you believe the once-haughty NYRA found him?

In a sport run by buffoons, blowhards and do-nothing poseurs, Hayward is that rare racetrack executive who approaches the sport with intelligence, level-headedness and straight-forward purpose. A Yankee from Maine, he may not be the most imaginative man, but hes got the knack for sounding on-key with each remark uttered even when he publicly calls former Gov. George Pataki derelict in terms of his handling of the sport.

Haywards mere introduction at the Saratoga Preview panel hosted by the Racing Museum was met with applause and then multiplied when he deftly handled all but one question (How will a system set up for 12 betting interests handle the 24 horse fields offered in the UK once Saratoga begins taking wagers on British racing?) thrown at him.

Just enjoy racing and leave the issue of who will run the sport in the Empire State to the Governor, Hayward told one admirer who asked him how fans can help NYRA secure the franchise. If we spend the necessary money to test horses properly for anabolic steroids and body-altering chemicals, the game will return to its rightful purity, he offered as a way in which racing can be advanced.

Hayward may not cut the dashing figure of a fashion industry tycoon, or have the flair of an industry fund-raiser. But whichever group wrests control of the sport in the state, it better take notice of him.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Tale of Two Studs:  Deep Impact and No Impact


Shadai Stallion Station on the island of Hokkaido in Japan reported that Deep Impact, a hero of Secretariat proportions in Japanese racing, covered 230 mares in his first season at stud. The number was 80 more mares than he was expected to mate with, and many more had to be turned away.

Deep Impacts popularity as a racehorse evidently was borne out by his popularity as a stud. There was great sadness throughout the country last fall when Japans twice-named Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner was retired from racing. A record crowd attended the horses last race in the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse and more than 5000 Japanese traveled to Paris to see him participate in the Prix de lArc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

Ironically, on the same day of the Deep Impact announcement, Shadai also reported that another fan-pleaser, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, covered no mares during the recently concluded breeding season. Sadly, 2008 will be the second consecutive year that there will be no foals born by War Emblem, a horse with absolutely zero interest in being a stallion.

Shadai spent $17 million to purchase War Emblem as a stallion prospect. After trying five years to get him going in their chosen field, theyve spit the bit and are sending him back to Kentucky to learn if the females here create the same shyness in him.


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Monday, July 09, 2007


How about the Bob Chinn’s Crabhouse House Breeders’ Cup?


The Breeders Cup has hired sports marketing firm Velocity Sports & Entertainment to find a title sponsor for horse racings championship event. I think this offering is superior to Triple Crowns, Velocitys principal Harlan Stone said, showing how little he knows about horse racing and how difficult his firms task will be.

Breeders Cup president Greg Avioli wont say how much the Breeders Cup is asking, but whatever the price of the sponsorship, itll have to be backed up by marketing support. This is clearly an event that benefits more from having a sponsor than the sponsor does from having its name attached to an event unless, of course, were talking Galleryfurniture.com Stakes again.

Horse racing, however, has done a good job of acting as if its a more popular sport than it is. For example, in the case of some racetracks (especially one Midwest track that comes to mind), it still feels like the management is doing you a favor to sell you a ticket despite an empty grandstand.


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