Racing does not corner the market on bad news, not hardly, but it might lead all the sports leagues in negative reactions. Perhaps it’s a flaw that comes naturally with the horse-playing territory. Consider:
NEW YORK: Thanks in large part to its successful Day at the Races programming from Saratoga and Belmont Park–with some bluegrass sprinkled in–NYRA’s enjoyed a very solid year both aesthetically and at handle’s bottom line.
Better news is that NYRA is efforting to make the operation more successful, even if it takes years, as plans for improvements are in the works although still in the formative stages.
The Aqueduct winter which began in the second week of December was up more than 27%, according Daily Racing Form tabulations, the result of a higher quality “winter product” and an increase in field size.
The shortfall for the year is understandable considering that nearly 11 weeks of a four-day-per-week was lost and, upon racing’s return, it came without on-track customers. But NYRA weathered the storm, no small feat given America’s depression-like environment.
The most interesting aspect is the Association’s vision for the immediate future if only in the early stages. To wit:
What becomes of Belmont Park once the Islanders Arena is completed in the fall of 2021? Will a new, smaller facility replace the existing one or will the current model be retrofitted? Will fans be permitted in the infield?
At this point, everything is in play including backyard enhancements for fans in a park-like environment.
We personally love the idea of an open infield, a huge area where social distancing is more than feasible if still required in the future. Television monitors can bring the action closer to fans with plenty of room remaining for the erection of upscale VIP tents on big event days.
There are plans to expand the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga and to replace the existing dirt surface with the same materials that drew raves from horsemen and horseplayers this summer. All these ideas figure to come to pass eventually, in one form or another.
Maybe the most relevant question at this juncture is: What will become of Aqueduct Racetrack?
CALIFORNIA: Track surfaces from coast to coast are in the news these days. Santa Anita has installed a new turf chute that grew out of concerns for horse safety. The 6-1/2 furlong Hillside turf course had came under close scrutiny after a spate of breakdowns that date back to March, 2019.
Many jockeys and trainers gave their approval of the new course in a statement released by Santa Anita, but we’re still reserving judgment after having seen only one race. But from what we gleaned, we’re unsure about what was accomplished.
Turf horses racing 6-1/2 furlongs out of the new chute still need to cross over main track dirt for a short distance which causes some horses to alter their stride and not dissimilar to the issue raised by Down-the-Hill sprint events.
Further, with its short run to the bend, many horses breaking from inside posts are forced to either quarter-horse away from the barrier or carefully steady into position to avoid potentially hazardous close quarters and wide draws are naturally disadvantaged in the early going.
The good news is the track has made changes it can show the state if the issue of a statewide ballot initiative to make horseracing unlawful ever resurfaces, no pun intended.
Maybe a period of adjustment is needed for horses and riders, but these biases seem to be baked in. Meanwhile, it’s bettor beware.
The best news for Santa Anita is that horseplayers welcomed them back with open arms and wallets. A record $23 million was wagered on the opening 11-race program that featured five graded stakes including a spectacular return to the races by undefeated three-year-old, Charlatan.
That amount eclipsed the old opening day standard of $20.4M and last Saturday’s was established without fans in attendance. The Santa Anita program had little top-class competition, but this handle figure is truly remarkable.
FLORIDA: Santa Anita’s sister track in the Southeast, Gulfstream Park, is considering the installation of a third surface, a synthetic Tapeta track, which hopefully would mitigate overuse of its oft-criticized turf course and avoid a plethora of late scratches when scheduled turf races are rained off.
The Stronach Group has Aidan Butler, the company’s new CEO and President of 1/ST CONTENT, to thank for strongly backing the construction of a synthetic surface originally raised by General Manager Bill Badgett and Racing Vice-President Mike Lakow.
Butler gained national attention this year by overseeing the creation of the Jockey Village concept at the Arcadia track during Covid-19’s first wave as well as backing the installation of the track’s new turf chute.
Horseplayers–and the rest of the industry—also has Butler to thank for insisting on the elimination of post-time drag as a matter of policy, with limited exceptions to huge carryover payout days or special event days once fans are allowed back on track.
Three surfaces are better than two. The assumption is that the wider portion of the turf course would remain unchanged and what this year has been known as the inner turf would be the spot for the synthetic oval. With Gulfstream West no longer an option, Tapeta would provide a safer surface for training as well.