Summertime BluesWritten by Jonathan Stettin
It is going to be an interesting summer in our game.
I remember a time not too long ago when the Saratoga meet was anticipated with as much excitement as any sport could bring to its fans. While I am sure it is still that way for many, for others it just is not the same. I’ll be the first to admit that if you were not around and in the game back when Saratoga was the August place to be as opposed to the summer place to be then you have no real frame of reference, and it is still an anticipated and exciting meet. If you were however, then you likely recognize that an aftermarket spoiler has been put on a red vintage Ferrari. You just don’t do that. It’s a rare case of when an addition intended as an enhancement devalues something.
I attended every Saratoga meet in its entirety for the first 30 years of my life. Many others in part thereafter. It was absolutely the place everyone in the game wanted to be and where they wanted to win. I hit my largest Pick 6 there in excess of half a million dollars. There were plenty of others over 100K as well. I made my first significant bet, while pretty young, on It’s In The Air to upset Davona Dale in the Alabama. As an owner, I was lucky enough to run one horse there, and she won. One for one is how I’ll keep that record, at least for now. I never thought my excitement for the Spa would wane.
While still a great meet by comparison to others, the changes to the game, racing in general, the times and the town have relegated it to just a small piece of what it was. Modernization and technology do not always improve everything they touch. Vintage is vintage for a reason. Saratoga was vintage.
I think the main issue in changing the quality of the meet lies in the multiple extensions to it. For a long time, and through its heyday, it was four weeks of six days of racing. That amounted to a 24 day meet of high-quality thoroughbreds competing at what was recognized as the toughest circuit with the best outfits, trainers, and riders. Maiden Special Weight races featured many homebred horses from powerhouse farms and stables that wanted to outdo one another on the track, not in the sales ring and not join in partnerships. The competition was fierce, and so were the wagering opportunities with many less gimmicks or exotic bets. Allowance races were preps for bigger and better and not also optional claimers like we see today. There were very few if any maiden claiming races, and just a couple of lower level claiming races. While the sport probably can’t sustain such a meet today, trying over almost two months certainly changes what Saratoga was. It really was the Sport of Kings, and when you were there you felt like one.
Whitney Day, Alabama Day, and of course Travers Day are still strong. The rest of the meet has far too many cards that could be run during the week at one of NYRA’s downstate tracks. It was never that way. Sometimes preserving is better than advancing.
The late pick 5 being open to all bettors, not just NYRA Bets account holders and on track players, is one of a very limited few welcome additions. The pool which suffered under the previous restrictions will likely grow significantly. This is something that can really present some great opportunities. I wish it were a $2 wager, but hey, at this point we take what we can get in this game.
I am not sure what to expect at Del Mar, another great meet that is also not what it was. Del Mar has publicly admitted they expect a horse shortage, limiting field sizes and race days. If they follow Santa Anita and ban Jerry Hollendorfer that will make things even tougher on the racing office to fill races and get the condition book to go. Santa Anita became a rough place to wager this last meet, and there is a good chance Del Mar has a lot of pass days for me as well. We will just have to see how it plays out.
We are all awaiting word from the Breeders’ Cup on whether they stay at Santa Anita or move to Churchill Downs or even somewhere else. You would have to think this is the main point on the agenda for their meeting in the 27th. My guess is it remains at Santa Anita. First, it would be tough to change venues both contractually and logistically at this point. You also have all the prepaid flights and accommodations to think about. Second, while Santa Anita might not have handled the crisis of the fatal breakdowns as good as it could have, many of the changes they’ve implemented are consistent with the Breeders’ Cup philosophies and also European racing. I don’t think the Breeders’ Cup will be so fast on the draw to punish them for that. All that said, if they do move it I will be far from shocked.
Stay tuned, it is going to be a long summer.