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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Monday, September 13, 2010

Comment of the Week, Michael’s Number 5

Here is Michael's point that the fans are what keep the sport going and will provide for its future. It's a simple expression, but one with far-reaching implications - deserving of Comment of the Week.

Michael says:
06 Sep 2010 at 03:09 pm | #

The fans are the key to the future of racing, like it or not. We can debate who the fan is and the best way to attract them. However, we need to grow our fan-base as fast as we grow our handle. That includes maturing existing fans to sustainable fans which are much different than customers. The fans of today, including new $2 bettors, are the potential new owners, players and ambassadors of the sport tomorrow. Racing needs to think long term if we want to succeed.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Informal Secretariat Movie Review

This letter was written to a "Secretariat" film publicist who wanted to know what I thought of the movie. I'm posting it here because several Facebook friends were curious.

Hey, (publicist): Thanks for inviting me to the pre-screening of "Secretariat" and for asking me to share an opinion of the film. I'm not certain of what value my opinion would serve. I'm far from being someone that's in the film's target market. In any case, here's a few observations.

It's not easy making a film about a professional sport, even when that sport isn't known in detail by the public. I understand that. But Disney didn't get its money's worth from the consultants it hired. The amount of mud splattered on jockeys' faces makes them look like Al Jolsons. A valet would have taken the saddle from the Ron Turcotte character long before he went beneath the grandstand to sulk. The substitution of Keeneland for Belmont Park is sacrilegious - Secretariat's 31-length Belmont Stakes victory is epochal, too vivid in people's minds to believe that this scene didn't need to observe history.

I had no problem with the way the plot unfolded or how Penny Tweedy's personal challenges were portrayed. But there was little depth to the script and thus the actors came off as people you didn't really care about. The way Kevin Connolly played Bill Nack would be bad even if Bill Nack was anything like the actor's portrayal. John Malkovich's Lucien Laurin was made up, but did the character have to be such an over-the-top caricature?

There are several scenes that seem to have been added at the final minute for comic relief - and not for the better. The scene where the Secretariat team dances around the horse while he's getting a bath - oh, brother. The music for the finish of the Belmont Stakes when Secretariat delivers on Tweedy's dreams is so heavy-handed, it's laughable. The closing shot of the characters accepting the trophy has no context, looks phony and empty. The whole film seemed long. I couldn't wait for it to end.

(Publicist), the film's biggest critics will be people like me who are deep into the sport, who lived through the age of Secretariat and hold him up on a pedestal. Yet, I believe the film is weak cinematically even for Disney audiences and may not become the commercial and critical success that you'd like it to be. You'll find some horse racing authorities eager to praise what they've seen. The sport is desperate to call attention to itself. But you, as a publicist, have a tough job ahead of you, I think.

Vic Zast

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Comment of the Week, Tim’s Comment No. 7

Here's a quick, concise comment by Tim that helps us all understand that the sport is dominated by an aging audience and a non-caring management.

Tim says:
23 Aug 2010 at 11:41 pm | #

Read an article in the Daily News on Sunday about the number of OTB parlors closing throughout the city. There was a paragraph that really said it all mentioned the fact that most racing fans are fifty years of age or older. That got me thinking that this horse racing thing is like the vinyl record. We still have a few laying around somewhere put they are never played. All we have is a memory of a bygone era. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried suggesting things to improve the game but in reality this game is for the wealthy who don’t give a rats ass what the common fan thinks.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Comment of the Week, Johar’s #24

Johar sparred with wmcorrow about what's the over-riding feature of horse racing and made more sense. Here is his Comment of the Week:

Johar says:
18 Aug 2010 at 01:02 pm | #

wmcorrow: I do indeed realise the problem you are referring to, but I disagree in some ways. Racing needs BOTH handicappers and horsemen. Make no mistake, horsemen bet too and many of them bet big amounts. This is not black and white, where horsemen only “like to look at the pretty horses”, and gamblers are the ones funding the sport. Everybody needs to stop fighting their corner and pull together. The professional gamblers I know also love the animal, and know a lot about them. And, as I said, many of the horsemen I know (myself included) are significant handicappers.

Casinos and racetracks are entirely different business models and operate on entirely different wavelengths:
(1) Casinos are all about the destination and customer service. With few exceptions, racing has great sport in poor surroundings. The horse is the draw.
(2) If you lose $100 at the casino, that’s $100 in their pocket. If you lose $100 at the track, the track gets about $6-8 (their portion of the takeout - and that’s if you wager ON track!). This is what allows the casino to put so much money into customer perks and facilities, while operating with very low takeouts on slots that racing can never compete with. Overhead at a racetrack (purses, backstretch etc.) is enormous compared to at a casino.
(3) Racing/handicapping is extremely complicated to a neophyte. Not only is it hard to pick the right horse, it’s hard to bet that horse correctly to maximize return.
(4) To many gamblers, racing is boring. One event every 30 minutes? They’re frustrated by a slow dealer!
(5) Racing has serious and legitimate integrity issues....medications/rogue trainers/jockeys etc.

For these reasons, racing cannot be marketed as only a gambling sport if it is expected to compete with casinos. No serious gambler would tolerate our takeout, let alone our other problems. The horse is our draw. That is what will get people in the doors, and once they get interested and educated, they’ll bet.

One last thing that racing does a poor job of explaining is: racing handicappers are betting against each other. The track genuinely wants you to win, unlike in a casino where in the majority of games you are playing against the house.

I fully understand our need to attract big-time gamblers to our sport. That would help more than anything.....that is why so many states have (or are looking to get) slots. But we can’t compete toe-to-toe with casinos for the reasons above. The horse is our draw, and we must use it.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Comment of the Week, Kyle’s Comment #32

There were several good comments last week, but Kyle described what really happened in Zenyatta's Hirsch victory. Read his comment below:

kyle says:
10 Aug 2010 at 10:31 am | #

I’ll defend Vic on this one point: Rachel does still have a chance. If she wins the Personal Ensign, Beldame and Classic she is HOTY. Is that going to happen? I don’t think so. But it looks at this point that whoever of the Big Five wins the Classic, and I include Lucky in that group, is HOTY.

As to Vic’s take on the Hirsch: While it was my least favorite of Zen’s races (My tastes run to the understated, and the dog and pony show they put on at Del Mar was offputting) it was hardly an unimpressive performance. As others have pointed out the fractions where more than tepid (Del Mar is quicker and more speed friendly this summer); that was not a talentless horse she was chasing; I don’t know what Trakus showed but Zen went 7 wide on the turn while her rival safed every inch; she came home in about 29 for the last two and a half furlongs; and, Vic, she won in a measured hand ride. The outcome was never in doubt.

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