06/24/2009 11:16AM

Night and Day


There's been a lot of talk here the last few days about the feasibility of running the Kentucky Derby at night, prompted by Churchill Downs's three-Fridays experiment with night racing that began last week. My initial impulse was to regard this as nothing more than idle and fanciful speculation, as no one at NBC or Churchill Downs has ever seriously proposed moving the race into primetime, but a couple of smart people in the television world tell me it's not the craziest idea they've ever heard.

Horselamp "My first impulse was to laugh," a veteran producer of major races said in an email message, "but as the concept sinks in I having a hard time thinking why it won't be considered, although I have not heard a single rumor to that effect. My reasoning is all about economics. Just as every other major sport has moved its championship events to the evening why wouldn't the Derby? The obvious issue would be weather. It would be a disaster to run on a dark. cool, rainy night.

"That said, there is much more viewership in the evening and television networks struggle mightily to sell the commercial time in the afternoon. Honestly not sure if the inventory would be easier or harder to sell. If night racing would attract a larger rights payment and more money to be made for the presenting network then everything could be in play. Churchill has shareholders to report to and a very disciplined management team aimed at meeting or exceeding financial expectations. In my opinion tradition will play very little part in the decision.

"I think the Derby has three or 4 more years left on its current deal with NBC so I would be surprised if anything changed short term. I would expect to see Churchill consider more experimental night racing in the future. Perhaps Stephen Foster Day, which seemingly underperforms many of the "Super Saturday" concept days around the nation. It will be interesting to see how they do this Friday and next Thursday."

--Four of today's five grass races at Belmont are still on the turf, including three of the four in the $154k double-carryover pick-6 sequence. Only the 5th, a turf sprint, has been moved to the main track.

The condition of the turf course, which hasn't been used since last Wednesday, will be a key factor today. It's being called "yielding," but it's anyone's guess. There hasn't been as much rain the last couple of days as in the preceding week, and the next dose isn't supposed to arrive until tonight. The first race, scheduled for 1 p.m., should offer some clues.

After 17 late scratches, the pick-six sequence has fields of 7, 6, 11, 7, 10 and 10, a mere 323,400 possible combos that I hope to whittle down by around 99.8 percent by the time the thing starts at 2:30 pm.

1:35 pm: "Yielding" may be an understatement. The opener, for $25k N3L claimers, was run in 1:46.57 for a mile and a sixteenth, more than eight seconds off the course record. Favored Day Dee tired badly after getting clear in 24.24 and 49.57, and second choice Mask and Wig stalked from second, took over through 6f in 1:14.57, and won by two lengths.

2:20 pm: It's pouring again here 4.7 miles northeast at Belmont but not there at the moment. Races 6, 8 and 9 still scheduled for the grass.

2:45 pm: Here's the $624 play, as much as I felt like investing amid tricky races and uncertain weather. The first leg broke slightly the best way for me, as I leaned against the longtime 0-for-lifers in the field (like 0-for-15 Esquivalience at 5-2) and focussed on the more lightly-raced Saint Midas ($8.90) and the steamy firster, 2-1 Scholarly Pursuit, who ran 1-2 in that order. That keeps alive my C tickets, which I hope survive until the 8th race, where I have the shakiest of A singles in Nedjma. She hasn't been out since November and the 7f distance may be too short, but she's just a notch better than today's opponents and drops into allowance company after five straight stakes tries last fall. I just didn't know where else to take a shot. 

3:50 pm: Arggh. A 5-1 A (Storm Hope) failed to catch a 5-1 C (Quiet On the Tee), so I'm down to a pretty hopeless 2x1x2. I thought Storm Hope, steadied and shuffled back to 9th at the top of the stretch, was best but I might be prejudiced.

4:50 pm: Technically lasted another hour, but Nedjma didn't fire her best shot finishing an even third and I wouldn't have used Crazy Catlady ($27.40, 9th choice in a field of 10) against her if you'd given me $5k in counterfeit money to play.

There are 121 combos alive into the finale, 106 of them on the four favorites, ranging from 35 on Sarah's Sally ($15,408) to just one on Jackpot Julie ($539,292). Only two of the 10 are uncovered: Cat Grace (#5) and Cottage Industry (#8). Good luck if you're still in it....

5:25 pm:...and congratulations if you were still in it and were one of the 16 tickets alive to Carmen's Kiss ($7.90). The sequence returned $33,705 for 6/6, more than the posted will-pay of $29,960. Since the will-pay worked out to 18 tickets rather than 16, have to think that there were two tickets alive to scratched horses. For wil-pay purposes, those tickets were assumed transferred to the morning-line favorite, Carmen's Kiss, but by post time there was $44,971 bet on Sarah's Sally and $41,945 on Carmen's Kiss, so those two tickets were apparently switched to Sarah's Sally.