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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Friday, December 17, 2010


On the Fifth Day of Christmas, Less


(CHICAGO, IL – December 17, 2010) Less is more, according to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The renowned Bauhaus architect stripped each design to its essence, so that people who encountered his creations confronted a focus that was simple and beautiful.

Meis van der Rohe pioneered a movement that stood in contrast with chaos – a straightforward approach which, in its uniqueness, heightened interest by its sparseness and which, in its rarity, became worthy because it was precious. When the country had less horse racing, there was great anticipation for a day at the races, more satisfaction from being at the racetrack to experience what transpired.

Racetrack owners believed bettors could get “tapped out.” They coveted “churn.” They believed that if you drain horseplayers from their paychecks with unmerciful takeout and too much action, you stood more to lose than to win. This summer’s truncated Monmouth experiment was a throwback to that old-fashioned philosophy. Keeneland Racecourse and, to a lesser extent, Del Mar, operate true to tradition, and look what happens.

In the 1960s (yes, that’s a long time ago), the horse racing season came and left like a heat wave. The Saratoga season was 24 days long. Woodbine opened in May and closed in late July to accommodate Fort Erie’s summery six weeks. Hialeah had the mid-January to February dates; Gulfstream Park went from early March to early-April. South Florida’s Calder wasn’t in business because the weather wasn’t pleasant in summer. Horses in the north, those at Bowie included, ran until Halloween, and then returned to the track at Easter. Arlington Park began when Churchill shut down. There were always enough horses.

When simulcasting emerged in the ‘80s, the prediction was that the business would boil down to a dozen tracks, no more, and that would be that. But with many states requiring their licensees to race 24/7/365 in order to generate tax revenues, the sport of horse racing’s been used like a dish towel. At a high cost not shown on a ledger, the game has been turned into a sorry excuse for throwing money down the drain after enjoying the status of a spectacle that rewarded its fans even when they lost at the windows.

The sport’s sloppy, impersonal size; its humdrum grind and the shortage of class that accompanies the commonness – they’re disgusting. Here’s wishing, then, that it gains back its wonder.

The "12 Days of Christmas" wish list is almost half way home. If you missed any of the first four segments, you can find them in the archives. Vic Zast invites you to keep track of what's next on his Facebook page or at Twitter.com/viczast.


Written by Vic Zast

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