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I was really hoping that Sunday's folding-chair giveaway would be a bust. Alas, it drew long lines at the gates beginning two hours before post time, and a reported attendance of 72,745, surely a fake record of some sort.
The reason I was rooting that the chairs wouldn't draw flies was that I am hoping against hope that some day, some Saratoga marketing weasel will take leave of his senses and offer an even worse giveaway than the one we came up with when I was working at NYRA back in 1995 -- the shameful, shameful episode of the Saratoga Road Atlas.
Like New Coke, the Betamax and Friends of New York Racing, it really did sound like a good idea at the time. People take car trips in the summer and generally do a lot of driving in the vast expanses of upstate New York, right? So who wouldn't want a free road atlas with a big fat Saratoga logo on the front? How many t-shirts and umbrellas can the good citizens of Saratoga Springs accumulate year after year? We did a deal with a map company, got them for pennies, and braced for a pre-dawn assault on the Saratoga gates by the eager hordes of map-deprived Adirondackers.
The gates were still clear at high noon. Somewhere in the lower intestines of Saratoga, there must still be boxes and boxes of road atlasses, which did not exactly inspire gratitude from the masses. It was the giveaway you couldn't give away. We would have done better offering free scoops of liver-flavored ice cream. People would have gone through the turnstiles twice not to get an Official Saratoga Road Atlas. It was the worst giveaway day ever, and I fear its status at the very bottom of the leaderboard is secure for many years to come.
There are already 77 listings on eBay for "Saratoga folding chair," with bids as high as $15. Alas, "Saratoga road atlas" returns 0 listings.
--As for the racing that surrounded the chair giveaway, the best of it came early in the card in the form of stunning back-to-back victories by Digger and Posted which each earned Beyers of 100.
*Race 3: Digger is the horse that eccentric owner Larry Roman (of Lawrence the Roman fame) was threatening to enter in the Belmont Stakes as some sort of protest against Street Sense's absence. Roman promised the colt would go 44 and change in the Test of the Champion, which would have made for an interesting sight in a race where the first six furlongs were run in 1:15.32. Turns out Roman was right if two months late, as Digger, dismissed at 10-1 in this $100k claimer for 3yos, was three in front after a half in 44.33, eight in front at the stretch call, and 6 3/4 lengths clear at the wire after 6 1/2 furlongs in a scorching 1:15.17.
*Race 4: Posted, the 4-year-old statebred gelding who posted a staggering 111 Beyer winning a maiden race July 14, came back to score by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:21.74 for seven furlongs here in a statebred N1x. The graph-paper set will say he bounced or regressed off his last race but what also happened is that he was restrained through very moderate early fractions -- 23.25 and 46.22, as opposed to Digger's 21.87 and 44.33 -- and then ran green as grass through the stretch, looking straight into the grandstand with his head cocked through much of a fine final three-eighths in 35.52. Posted has obviously had his problems, having made only three career starts more than halfway through his 4-year-old year, but clearly has the raw talent to turn into an important sprinter this fall.
Race 9: Classic Pack ($29.60) stormed to victory in the West Point Handicap, killing all but three pick-six tickets, all of them alive only to favorite New York Dixie in the finale, on a day when $577k was bet chasing a $101k carryover.
Race 10: Optimistic Jordan looked home free to pull a 35-1 upset and prompt a $426k double-carry into Monday, but Garrett Gomez got New York Dixie to make a final surge and got the bob at the wire to win what might have been the meeting's closest photo. So instead of a million-dollar Monday, we had three winners at $142,005 apiece.
--Restaurant Foray #5: With no double-carry to study up on at the end of an ugly week, it seemed time for the first real blowout meal of the meeting, so it was dinner for 4 at Sargo's, which has become my favorite fancy-meal-out place in Saratoga over the last few years, and which did not disappoint on tonight's maiden outing of the meet.
Sargo's gets its name from the Saratoga National Golf Course that surrounds it, just east of the thruway a few minutes from the track. This is a Four Diamond joint where you can eat in the main dining room in a polo shirt while being fussed over by a crisp wait staff, and while your eyes might pop at the $58 pricetag for the 2 1/2-pound lobster out of its shell, it's delicious. Cheaper eats are available in the bar area, but this gracious, high-ceilinged clubhouse is exactly where you want to go when you hit one of those $142k pick-sixes -- or just live like you did.
Returned to the Spa this year on 8/1-2. First time since 1995- I was there the day they gave out the Atlas- what a bust! no lines at all; no spinning. My first Spa trip was 1965 with my Father - saw Buckpasser win the Hopeful on closing day
To rick_hf: I don't think switching the dates of the Whitney and Travers is necessary to produce a Whitney/Travers double. Key to the Mint, Alydar, Java Gold, and Easy Goer all pulled it off with 2 weeks in between, and Judgable came close. It just takes guts to run your 3yo vs. older in the summer, and today's trainers don't have the stomach to do it. The pandering in the assignment of weights is probably another reason why we don't see 3yos, even the very good ones, stepping out of their division to face older horses during the summer.
Agree with rick_hf in re Whitney and Travers- both should be a mill and move the Woodward back to Belmont where it belongs. Not sure about switching the dates but the lack of top flight competition in this year's Travers brings up the BC Classic Problem- too many owners and trainers are looking for an easy Eclipse by aiming for the BC Classic. Good piece on this in today's Daily News, linked on Equidaily.com. Way too much emphasis on the BC Series (and KY Derby) as championship deteriminants. The Eclipse Awards need to be based on a point system such that if a horse has a consistent year right up to the BC then it would still be possible to lose the BC Classic and win the HOY Eclipse on total points. Such a system would keep the best G1 runners in training- and racing- over the course of the season rather than picking a few soft spots to burnish their cred and bankroll prior to BC Day. Fans want to see these tigers run, especially at the Spa, not stay in the barn!
To C: "(3) Do you think it's absurd for Saratoga to host both the Whitney AND the Woodward? What is the point of running 2 identical 9 furlong Classic preps at the same track, 3 weeks apart? The division isn't even that big. I just don't get it. NYRA really needs someone that knows what they're doing and understands the sport. Their current leadership is from hunger, period." I would like to change tradition. I realize the Jim Dandy is a prep for the Travers, but how about we change the schedule a little. Make both the Whitney and Travers $1 mil races, and swap them on the schedule. Travers then Whitney. Offer a bonus to a horse that wins the Travers and then goes on and shows the older horses that he can beat them too. Or offer a combo nomination for a reduced price that gets horses into both races. Maybe that could generate more excitement in both races. Nothing against the Whitney, as I think that's the best race Saratoga has these days. The Travers has lacked that excitement that HORSES bring. Not mother nature, bringing a lightning storm during Birdstone's victory at a race that I think shouldn't be AFTER 6:00PM.
I do have to say that Posted's win is something that handicappers should take note for future reference. As Mr. Crist has pointed out, and made quite evident through the zoom in replay after the race, Posted was definitely distracted by the crowd. A big loud crowd and Posted without any way (ear plugs or blinkers) of blocking out the crowd, and he could easily be defeated. With that said, Posted is lucky that Winaway bobbled the start. I think that if Winaway had a perfect start, then those two would be much closer... and even to the point that Winaway could of stolen the race from the heavy favorite. I was upset with Winaway only because I didn't bet him (stupidly), and he came right in the way of a straight trifecta of the 3-4-1. I should learn how to read the PP before I spend my money.
(Steve: I know my comments below may not be of general interest to your bloggers. Feel free to read and delete.) I laughed out loud at your map giveaway story. It strikes me that the Saratoga marketing gurus are stuck in state of 'irrational exuberance' regarding the giveaways. In order to satisfy their need for higher and higher (phony) attendance figures, they drive themselves deeper into bankruptcy with more freebies. I imagine the explanation: "We lose $5 on each customer, but we make it up in volume". We've all seen the scores of opportunists walking away from the track before post time with armloads of hats, clocks, umbrellas, etc. These are folks who never see a race nor make a bet. I seriously doubt that the give-aways create many new fans. If NYRA wants to use lagniappe* to reward bettors, they could give each customer a ticket on the way in (before the 3rd race) and hand you your trinket on the way out (after the 9th race). With no re-entries this would eliminate the "EBay Tulip Frenzy Phenomenon" and insure that folks at least watched a few races. Of course, this won't happen because they need to keep alive the illusion of ever increasing attendance. * I learned about lagniappe from reading the late Charles Hatton's terrific DRF columns.
Steve, Thanks so much for not mentioning the name of the "Director of Marketing", ahem, I mean the "Directof of Advertising and Promotion" that sold the NYRA VP of Communications on the Saratoga Road Atlas promotion. Two things you left out of the story. (1) The Saratoga crowd on the same Sunday the year before was over 29,000. On a spectacular 80 degree no humidity day, attendance on Saratoga Road Atlas Day was 23,000. The giveaway had actually repelled around 6,000 people from attending the races (and that includes spinners). (2) To get rid of the 18,000 extra atlases and to put a positive public relations spin on the marketing disaster. NYRA donated around 10,000 of the atlases to the Saratoga Springs School System to be used by 8th graders as a study aid for the American Geogrophy curiculum. There was even a photo op with the NYRA official and the Superindentent of Schools published in the Saratogian. We had failed to remember that NYRA had inserted a 16-page wraparound that included NYRA factoids like the Stakes schedule, where to stay and eat in the area and, of course, how to box a trifecta or wheel a daily double. Sad beginnings rarely have happy endings.
I vote for the Seabiscuit coffee mug as the worst Spa giveaway ever....or at least as the most hideous! I can't believe they're still being sold on Ebay. We used it as a flower pot before its most welcome demise.
Today completes the worst week of racing Saratoga has ever put on. There was a whopping one graded stakes race, which was killed by an almost identical race in Chicago and one of the two big names dropping out the morning of the race. Statebreds and uninspiring claimers and allowance races dominated the rest of the cards, as did short prices until about 3 o'clock on Saturday. Here's to NYRA putting together 18 better cards for the rest of the meet
STEVE ON WAGERING: Then do players who, use online offshore agencies, receive better returns due to '0' takeouts? Andy was a bit unclear on this. If this is the case, it would seem unfortunate for the future of the game/sport. I'll be watching from (CH) D L 18 today which should be much more relaxed than colliding with the volume of 'sports fans' that passed up Jones Beach to be at Saratoga yesterday. Orlando Larry