Sunday, August 31, 2008

Professional Curlin

Standing at the rail just past the finish line watching Curlin was watching a true professional athlete at work. He knows how to win and won the Woodward at the Spa before 22,572 appreciative fans. I was never worried watching the race. Maybe some expected a complete romp, but I was happy with the performance, the time was solid and the Beyer figure was 112. Do I think he walks on water? No. But I am happy to watch the Horse of the Year continue his career as a 4 year old instead of running off to the Breeding shed. Was this enough to bring in new fans and label him a spectacular horse to save the industry ? No, but I can't blame Curlin for that. You can't blame NYRA for marketing the horse either (although most fans I spoke to at the meet disliked the tacky themed poster). They have to market someone and with Big Brown staying at the Jersey Shore this summer, Curlin is the horse NYRA had to market.

Having seem him run now 3 times in person, from the Belmont in '07, the Breeders Cup in '07 and now at Saratoga, you definitely see how this horse has matured and grown. Physically he is such a fit horse and beautiful to see in person.

As he came onto the track Saturday a splattering of applause begin on the clubhouse end of the track as people recognized Curlin. Then when Tom Durkin annouced the # 5 horse as Curlin more applause followed. When he came back to the winners circle after galloping out after his win, the crowd gave a warm applause. Here are some photos from the day:

Photographs waiting to get the perfect shot as the Gate is loaded for the Woodward

Curlin walking back to the Winners Circle after the Woodward Win

Curlin getting a hose down as the handlers are in the Winners Circle

Asmussen and Albarado in the Winners Circle

Offspring at the Rail--training him well

Friday, August 29, 2008

Saratoga Last Weekend Notes

Friday is Twilight Racing-1st post 2:45 pm.

21 year old Jockey Jackie Davis, daughter of retired Jockey Robbie Davis, makes her professional debut today at the Spa aboard 2 year old NY bred Shifty Guy in the 5th race.

Curlin draws the 5th Post in the Woodward Stakes at morning line odds of 3-5. The odds will drop and I figure he will go off at 2-5 or maybe even 1-5.

If you are gonna pick anyone else to win, pick Divine Park. Trainer Kiaran Mclaughlin is red hot, he has won 7 of his last 13 starts since Travers Day and now sits atop the Trainers Standings at the Spa with 16 wins.

With Curlin taking the Horse of the Year, then winning big races as a 4 year old including the Dubai Cup, where does he stand among the greats? For a interesting read on this, check out writer MaryJean Wall's take on her blog "Celebrating the Horse".

Weather looks good for the weekend with Sun forecast for the entire Holiday Weekend. There is a chance of a shower or 2 on Saturday but not a washout and the latest forecast has the showers staying south of Saratoga on Saturday.

Attendance for Saturday to see Curlin run? I'll throw out a prediction of 26,200. Sunday is cooler giveaway day so expect the usual spinner inflated figure of about 55,000. Closing Day on Monday should bring out about 20,000 or so.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NYRA goes Marketing

After barely mentioning Curlin's presence in June at Belmont Park for the Man 'O War, NYRA has finally gotten smart and pulled out the marketing engine for Curlin's debut at Saratoga this Saturday in the Woodward. The website for NYRA prominently mentions Curlin and they even have a page called "Curlin's Corner". The website itself could still be much better and interactive than it is, but it is light years ahead of where it was this time last year.

So Curlin gets the Key to the City of Saratoga Springs and posters will be given out to the the first 20,000 fans to enter the track. What do you think the attendance will be? Charlie Heyward, president of NYRA, is looking for 30,000 according to his interview with Sherry Ross of the Daily News.

Attendance was up for week 5, with thanks going to the dry weather all week. As been the case all season, rain will keep the crowds down, sun will keep the crowds coming. I don't know if we will see 30,000 there on Saturday. Seems a tad too optimistic. If memory serves me correctly I think about 22,000 were there the last Saturday of the meet when Lawyer Ron took the Woodward. Figure curiosity about Curlin will bring in another 4000-6000 for a total of 26,000-28,000 total fans in my estimation. My gang going with me this Saturday increased from 8 people to 12 with 4 of the 12 being 1st time visitors. Imagine seeing Curlin on your first visit to a racetrack ? With many out of towners already gone and school starting this week for many kids, it will be tough to bring in really huge numbers. If they actually exceed 30,000 NYRA will be more than satisfied.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Travers Day Recap

One can argue all day about the quality of this years 3 year old crop running in the Travers. But each year after I walk out of the Track on Travers Day towards Siro's to drink and discuss the days events I look for two things-will I have memories of the day and did I have fun. The 2008 Travers was an affirmative Yes on both accounts for me.

----The crowd was 40,723. I thought the crowd was a pretty good # and my pre meet guess of 42,500 on The Equispace blog Toga contest was the closest allowing me to finally break my maiden in the contest.

----The weather was even better than I expected. Some of the morning forecasts predicted a little bit of humidity but there was none to be had. In fact the weather was incredible, a far difference from the oppressive humidity of Travers '07

----A roar went up in my section of the grandstand when Slambino in the 7th race came across the wire at 88-1. One of my gang had him in a show bet prompting the immediate "why didn't you bet him to win" post race wise guy comments. A even greater roar went up when the pay amounts went up on the board showing a $105,914 trifecta and $1,523,188 superfecta. No one actually hit the $2 superfecta but there were 2 bettors who had the 10 cents superfecta that paid $76,159.40.

----I often find that horseplayers disagree on who is a good jockey and who is not. I am no expert but this Alan Garcia kid looks to me to be a good jockey. He won 5 races yesterday and seems really good on the turf. He is now the leading winning jockey in the meet.

----Visionaire won the Kings Bishop, coming out of the clouds with Alan Garcia on board. I had J be K like many others. Of course when the race was over the horse looks like a no brainer to pick especially at those odds, paying $15.60 to win.

----The Travers Stakes itself was one thrilling race. The crowd gave it's usual pre race roar as race caller Tom Durkin announced that "They're in the Gate" Then the horses got off clean and the crowd roared louder. As the horses turned and came down the final stretch Mambo in Seattle made a move on the outside of Da'Tara and caught up to Colonel John and they both barreled toward the finish side by side. We all leaned forward as it was obvious they would stay this way to the finish and we would need to look closely at the finish. I thought Mambo in Seattle had him at the wire and many in the crowd thought so too. We waited and waited and then Colonel John's # was posted first with Mambo in Seattle and then Pyro third. Even when they showed the replay a couple of times it was so hard to tell who won they were so close. Give me a race like that and who cares if Big Brown is not there.

----With 12 packed races and many long shots hitting in the undercard, it was a fun day. It was then off to Broadway and Caroline Street for the usual post race revelry. As one person I bumped into later said so simply: " I love this town"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ginger Punch Prevails

22988 were on hand to watch Ginger Punch take the Personal Ensign Grade 1 Stakes in a thrilling race at the Spa. With Ginger Punch winning the Go for Wand in come from behind fashion the 1st weekend and the Proud Spell/Music Note duel last week, the fillies and mares have put on quite a show this meet. I was going nuts watching today's stretch drive from my seat and shakily snapped this picture with my cell phone as Ginger Punch makes her move in mid-stretch against Lemon Drop Mom. From my seat at the eight pole looking towards the finish line it looked like Lemon Drop Mom won by a nose, but the photo revealed Ginger Punch got up in the final jump.

It was a thrilling Friday on this Travers weekend with Ginger Punch winning again as well as several photo finishes and a 44-1 winner in the 7th (Quick Comeback), part of a $23,323.00 winning Trifecta payout.

The Spa was jumping with near perfect weather today and with the full turf fields and long shot winners spread out throughout the day, it was a ton of fun. I can't wait to be back Saturday for The Travers.

It will be a Derby Like field for the Mid Summer Derby with 12 horses. The betting will be spread out with no clear cut betting choice. Who do you like? I will take a shot with Harlem Rocker, Mambo in Seattle and Macho Again. Enjoy the day, enjoy the card, enjoy the Spa.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Make it mean something

In the blogosphere the big doings has been talk about the NTRA Marketing Summit and how to sustain fans, particularly younger fans under 30 in this industry.

There is the usual entries-market it as a sport vs. market it as gambling, lower takeouts, customer service, etc. Well, this weekend under sunny skies the track will be packed at Saratoga. Why don't we look at the reasons the track will be packed this weekend and work on marketing that year round:

1. It is an event. ie : "The Travers"
2. The meet is short and not too long
3. You can bring in your own food/beer/wine etc-customer friendly to the everyman fan
4. Graded Stakes races, quality races, full fields, horses you know by name are racing
5. It is cool to be there-great crowd mix

To me in my opinion the other tracks are not as packed because the meets are way too long, poor fields, poor customer service and not cool to be there. Sure there are other problems, early horse retirement, drugs, synthetics, etc but if we run meets year round that have meaning and properly market those specific meets on TV, Internet, with a Standings System (see right hand column- TBA Standings), you have something to go on. Anyway, if you are at the track this weekend, look around and formulate your own ideas on what works and what does not.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Common Sense

So Yesterday around 5 pm or so I am driving down the highway listening to Ch. 126 on Sirius to "At the Races with Steve Byk" and Trainer Bobby Ribaudo (Trainer of Sword Dancer Winner Grand Couturier)is on and he says something like- If we are so concerned about what drugs we put into horses and we want them to be natural why would we run them on a unnatural surface (synthetic)? He also said something like, what about all that synthetic stuff the horses are now breathing into their lungs?

The above is not an exact quote as I was driving at the time and don't drink and drive or write and drive. But you get the point. Good old fashion New Yorker talking from the heart and thinking out loud. I'm thinking-wow, common sense. Where is the common sense in this sport? We need the head leaders of this sport to listen to guys like this. Maybe our Thoroughbred Bloggers Association com padres at the NTRA upcoming Marketing Summit can push some more good ole common sense down the pike.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Linda Rice hits the Trainer Superfecta

Congratulations to one of my favorite Trainers Linda Rice who hit the Trainer Superfecta in the 6th race at the Spa Today, as all 4 horses she saddled in the 6th race, a $80,000 5 1/2 furlong turf race for 3 year olds and up, came in 1-2-3-4 in the 9 horse field.

The horses were Ahvee's Destiny, Canadian Ballet, Silver Timber, and Karakorum Elektra. Lest you think she did it with 4 favorites, she did not. The win price on Ahvee's Destiny was $20.60. The exacta paid $248.00; the Trifecta paid $914.00 and the Superfecta hit for $3,490.00.

Todd Pletcher picked up a win today and leads all trainers this meet with 12 wins. Richard Dutrow Jr picked up 2 wins today and is now in 2nd with 9 wins. Linda Rice has 6 wins for the meet (tied for 5th in the trainer standings).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Monday Morning Saratoga Notes

It was a sun splashed weekend at the Spa, highlighted by the thrilling stretch run between Proud Spell and Music Note. Proud Spell now stands atop the 3 yr old Filly Standings. Of course with the Breeders Cup on a Synthetic Surface, don't expect Proud Spell to be running this October in the BC.

It felt downright strange to have a complete weekend of sun at the Spa. 32,344 were there on Saturday with a "spinner" inflated crowd of 65,598 coming out on Sunday. For an interesting monetary breakdown on the #'s and handle on a spinner/giveaway day check out Steve Zorns Blog.

Due to a family commitment I arrived at the track late today and was told that the coupon for the giveaway shirts were all gone. The place was mobbed when I first got there with many spinners carrying 10 shirts at a time. I find the giveaway days for the most part to be annoying as the non racing spinners just tend to crowd up the track with no interest or regard for the racing. Luckily the spinners departed early with most of them gone by the time the feature race, the John's Calls Stakes went off. With the spinners gone, I got a great spot along the Paddock fence to see 17 year old John's Call lead the Post Parade.

The picture above is of a sun splashed Cornelio Velasquez aboard Dancing Tin Man, 2nd half of a $27.60 exacta ticket I managed to cash in on the 7th race on Sunday.

The highlight of the weekend and the meet thus far was The Alabama Stakes. For all the bad things we hear about the sport, if that race doesn't get your heart racing, I don't know what does.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama

Seems like only yesterday I was sitting in the Grandstand on a beautiful Sunny August day watching the Alabama Stakes. Carl Nafzger trainee Lady Joanne riden by Calvin Borel, was the 9-2 third choice behind Panty Raid and Octave. Lear's Princess, who was near the back of the field early, followed Lady Joanne into the final stretch. The pair battled through the final furlong, with Lady Joanne holding off Lear's Princess in the final strides to prevail by a neck in 2:03.62.

Well, a year later and the 'Bama Stakes features a strong 6 horse field of 3 year old fillies. Oaks winner Proud Spell (2nd in the TBA standings) will be challenged by Music Note and Little Belle. The caveat here is that Music Note could be a morning scratch if Goldophins Stable decides to run her against the boys in the Travers Stakes next Saturday. In this corner, I hope Music Note stays in the Alabama. I am more excited to see her run against these 3 year old fillies rather than see her run next week in the Travers. Also keep an eye on Sweet Vendetta, winner of the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico and Muska, last years Demoiselle Stakes winner. In short this race has alot of Juice and should be fun.

The 'Bama crowd at the Spa always seem to be lively and this year, with Sun (ok , some clouds mixed in and a chance of showers) forecast and The Sword Dancer on the undercard, expect a big crowd. I had some extra Grandstand seats and I had many takers when I offered them to the first responder. With nice weather, the eagerness to enjoy a sunny day at the Spa is suddenly a commodity.

Attendance has also picked up with 19,000 plus on Wednesday and Thursday this week and 20,000 plus on Friday. Last years Alabama Stakes card drew 33,083. Based on the encouraging #'s this week and the nice forecast (so far) for Saturday look for a crowd between 32,000-35,000. With a new giveway day on Sunday, and an even better day forecast-the long sleeve T-Shirt-expect a strong "spinner" # of 55,000 plus. The giveway shirt is white with a cheap looking silk screen photo imprint on the front and sure to lose it's shape after one washing but that will not stop the spinners from coming out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Curlin and Big Brown back and forth

The Soap Opera continues.

Curlin owner Jess Jackson challenges Big Brown to run in the Woodward at the Spa on August 30th, promising he would donate $50,000 from the Jackson Curlin for Kids Fund to the non-profit Belmont Child Care Association if Big Brown came to the race.

Of course, to the surprise of no one, Michael Ivarone of IEAH says no with a comment that the offer was "sad"

After snubbing NYRA's summer meet including the Travers and Woodward, Ivarone now waits for NYRA to bend over and set up a mid September turf race for his horse.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

18 Days in the Books

We are officially at the half way point of the 36 day Saratoga Race Meet. On the 18th day we had what else-rain. It rained all day today- it was heavy at times-and 4 more races were taken off the turf for a total of 24 races taken off the turf thus far this meet..

So the biggest stories thus far at least from my vantage point are:

1. The Weather--Rain, Rain, and more Rain. Even when the day starts out sunny, rain comes in at some point and rains at least part of the day. The rain has often times been very heavy-including opening day, Friday August 8th, resulting in a cancelled card after 2 races, and today. We also have had lightning and hail, by my count on 3 different race days at the track.

2. Attendance-down from last year. Attendance through the first 18 days this year totaled 405,616, down 18.9 percent compared with the 500,280 fans who attended the first 18 cards last year. This includes a rain shortened card on August 8th.

3. Curlin to run in the Woodward--Just the shot in the arm the Spa needed. Curlin will run on August 30th on the Dirt in the Woodward.

4. Pletcher--Todd Pletcher has returned to the top of the Trainer Standings with 10 wins including 5 wins for his 2 year old's (out of 15 that ran)

5. A better second half of the meet--With such lousy weather everyone has been pointing to the last 3 weeks which feature a strong Alabama Field-Proud Spell, Little Belle and possibly Music Note, a full Travers Field (including possibly filly Music Note) and Curlin in the Woodward on the last weekend.

The weather calls for more rain through Thursday but Sunny for Alabama Day and the long range forecast calls for nice and dry weather for the last 10 days in August.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Sun will come out Tomorrow

An all day rainstorm on opening day, 18 races taken off the turf over 14 racing days and now a rain and hailstorm resulting in a cancelled card on Friday after 2 races run. The handle lost for the day was about 2.5 million, and when the meet is over many will point to the lower overall handle and attribute the soft economy as the main reason. In this case it is the weather, just crazy weather over the 14 days of the meet run thus far. But there are 22 days left, the Alabama, Travers and Curlin are still to come and the weather has got to get better, right??? I remain the optimist, gas is down to $3.78 (if coming up the Northway, get off Exit 10 and 2 cheap stations yards away on the right side) the sun is shining today and a day at the Spa is still better than a day anywhere else this time of year.

On a programming note, the Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes from Arlington Park will be on ESPN today at 4:30. Will Einstein add to his points total (440) in the turf division against this strong field going in the Million?

Friday, August 08, 2008

No Graded Stakes Races This Weekend @ the Spa

The 3rd weekend of the Saratoga meet will have no Graded Stakes Races. Thats right, no Grade I, no Grade II, not even a Grade III. The best NYRA can do is 4 overnight Stakes on an 11 race card for Saturday. The feature race on Saturday, a NY Bred race for Fillies and Mares -The Yaddo Handicap, has been moved to Sunday as they could not fill the field for Saturday.

A weekend without a Graded Stakes race at Saratoga just does not sound right. Bad enough the weather has put a damper on the meet thus far but now we have a weekend with no Graded Stakes racing. A "boutique" meet like Saratoga should have strong fields with Graded Stakes racing on the weekends-end of story. That is how it used to be and in a perfect world we could go back from The Summer Place To Be too The August Place To Be with a 4 week meet and Graded races every weekend-The Whitney for week 1 The Alabama for week 2, The Travers for week 3 and The Woodward/Hopeful/Spinaway for week 4.

Lets get back to making the meet an event with the best racing every weekend instead of the best racing on some of the weekends. Compact the meet, increase the quality of the racing cards and bring in more people per day over a shorter period of time. The net attendance/handle should even out, at least in my way of thinking. Or is just about the simulcast and putting out a card every day.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Week 3 Day 1-Sights @ the Track

Week 3 is underway at the Spa. Despite rain in the morning the sun came out when racing began. 16,651 came out on a Wednesday to watch 6 maiden races and Sackatoga Stable/Tagg trained Doc n Roll win the feature race. The crowd today was pretty good and everyone seemed eager to come out and not use an umbrella. The cost of Gas around here has dropped about 25 cents in the last week and the mood seems much more upbeat around the track. Without an umbrella in my hand, I was able to walk around , take in the sights and snap some photos.

The morning begins as usual with rain showers, washing out the tours

Sunny with Dark Clouds to the North-typical of weather so far this meet

But the rain holds off as the sun shines as Vicarious wins the 3rd

The Paddock awaiting today's horses

The Bell that gets rung at 17 minutes to Post

Javier Castellano aboard 2 year old Yes I'm Clever before the 5th race

Javier Castellano after winning on 2 year old maiden winner Yes I'm Clever

Till the next time...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dark Day Notes

Dark Day Notes-8/05/08

- Speculation continues on Big Brown and where he will run (or if) next.

-If Curlin runs the Woodward will the Big Brown crew take a shot and run?

-Day one of the Fasig-Tipton Preferred Yearling Sales is complete. See sales results here.

-A very worthwile Charity Benefit sponsored by Horse Society takes place Tuesday 8/5/08 at Saratoga Trackside Favorite Siro's Restaurant to benefit Old Friends, a retirement facility for Kentucky Thorougbreds. The good thing about this event is that you get in for only 30 bucks and all of your 30 bucks will go directly to the good folks at Old Friends. The event kicks off at 6 pm with drink specials, complimentary food , music, an auction and other fun stuff.

--Mary Lou Whitney owned horse Ninth Client, a 2 year old maiden, an ode to Former New York State Luv Gov Spitzer, won the 5th at Saratoga in a dead heat to appropriately (you can't make this stuff up) named Skipadate. It must have been theme day as Paradise Playgirl won the 4th and Under Serviced won the 3rd.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Monmouth biggest winner on Big Brown's Haskell Win

Was Big Brown's win in the Haskell at Monmouth a good win or not?

Like many others I was rooting for him to lose. I am sick of the whole IEAH/Dutrow/Kent back and forth. But despite all that, like many others, I did watch the race today (Thank you who ever invented the DVR). For me it is a good win-the splits were good, the final time was good and he was able to run down Coal Play when it counted. Is he the Super Horse that many described him as before the Belmont? To me, no way, but he did win a Grade 1 race and a win is a win is a win. If he failed to catch Coal Play everyone would be saying he sucked, but he did catch him, so he deserves credit.

The #'s on attendance and handle were winners for Monmouth, especially compared with a so far soft Delmar and Saratoga meet attendance wise. Alot of people came out to Monmouth and this shows me that that people will come out to watch a Horse they know by name and are familiar with, even if they dislike the Handlers connected with the Horse. The Haskell drew record wagering of $4,257,409, with a single-day record total handle of $17,642,954. Attendance was a very nice at 45,312. Don't forget the people who watched it on TVG, ESPN Classic or DVR/TIVO'd it for later watching. Could you imagine how much BB would increase Travers Day handle and attendance @ Saratoga if he ran? What if he runs at Suffolk Downs in the Mass. Handicap or Philly Park in the Pennsylvania Derby? You think those two second tier tracks would not love to have BB run and fill the stands up?

People love to go too sporting events to see stars, even if they can't stand the handlers surrounding the star or even the star himself. Look at all the talk about Manny Ramirez this week-love him or hate him- the man sells tickets. I know I have started flipping on ESPN Sportscenter late @ night to check out how Manny is doing out west.Horse racing is no different than any other sport. Give us an exciting athlete we know, with a story to follow, good or bad, and we will come out.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Saturday Morning Notes

The Saratgoa Race Track today will get no break again this Saturday 08/02/08-with showers and heavy thunderstorms forecast as coming in. This will no doubt keep the numbers down again. The Grandstand only seats about 8000 with most people staying outside. The weekend attendance figures particularly get hurt by bad weather as Saratoga has a large "backyard contingent" that picnics in this area with many locals coming for the day. However if you have ever had a picnic in the rain, it sucks, and people stay home. In contrast, yesterday, Friday was sunny up at the track and Constant Companion MBA and I felt a nice breeze. The place was pretty lively and 19,435 came out for a non-twilight racing day.

In todays feature at the Spa, look for 3 year old filly, Indian Blessing, currently # 3 in the TBA standings to move up the ladder with a win today. Maybe bet her in a late double with a horse in the 11th race to pick up some gas money. If you don't feel like getting wet you can choose online horse racing

Over at the Paulick Report, you can find an article on CNET founder Halsey Minor, who is interested in buying and restoring Hialeah Racetrack in Florida. What caught my eye is this quote from Minor:

"The number one thing I’m going to do is work on putting fans in the stands. Everything I do is going to be designed to make the day more interesting. The day’s got to be shorter and faster. You’ve got to find ways to help people figure out how to bet and without looking at complicated forms."

This frank talk is what I find refreshing and needed in the sport. First of all make it a sport with gambling not just gambling. Encourage fan education, promote standings like the TBA standings on the right side of this column and keep it simple. How many of us after years or reading the form, still get confused when looking at it. It is great for the expert handicapper that goes to Saratoga and bets all those races plus the simulcasts all day from Monmouth, Arlington, Delaware Park and Finger Lakes but the hodgepodge of numbers and inside terms scare away most fans who just end up picking favorite #'s or cute names because the program/form/whatever is so damm confusing to them.

If you want to sell a car the old adage is always KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid). Why can't we do the same with racing?