You can look at this several ways I suppose. The start of the Saratoga racing season means that either summer has officially started, is half over or something in between. On the positive side, it is only July 19 and this year, there are five weekends in August so let’s not dismiss summer so soon. The one thing we do know is that there are 40 days of racing at the venerable Spa and as long as Mother Nature cooperates, good things should be in store.
More than 25,000 attended Opening Day, and at that pace, the Spa would draw exactly 1,000,000 patrons. Of course, that will drop off on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but will also swell on Travers Day and the giveways, the first of which is Sunday. The horse racing industry as we know has seen better days, but places like Saratoga, Keeneland, and Del Mar do remind us that there is still a place for the Sport of Kings in American society.
As Mark McGuire reported in the The Daily Gazette,” veteran writer Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News, ” has been laid off and if you couple that with The New York Post’s decision in 2013 to lay off most of its horse racing writers, that’s not a good thing. For the first time in decades, the New York media presence will not be felt. Truth be told, did it really make sense for the big three—the Times, Daily News, Post—to send reporters to Saratoga for 40 days? The answer is probably not, and this is more on where newspapers are than it is on where horse racing is. The Capital District has plenty of presence at the track with the Times Union, Daily Gazette, Saratogian, Record and the Post Star, but none of those papers send writers to cover the Belmont Fall Meet do they?
Still, not having the New York newspapers there does say something. Newspapers have struggled in this the digital age, and it remains puzzling why. They should do better, they’re newspapers, but they still haven’t figured out how to make their websites inviting, captivating and compelling. No industry relies on advertising more than the newspaper, but if you log on to any site, it’s pure clutter. No matter the reason, when I go to a newspaper website, click on a story to read and then see one ad after another scroll across the print, rather than finish the article, I click out and go somewhere else. Why they haven’t been able to master advertising without annoying the reader way is one of the many reasons why they are flailing. Yet, when you open an actual paper, they’re always looking for carriers and always advertising the money that can be made by delivering their product.
Newspapers are better off ending home delivery and making the switch to online. Many have already done this, printing enough to fill store racks and making those at home go online to see what happened yesterday. That is the other problem. Today, rather than wait until Sunday to read about the Travers Stakes, one can simple log on and get the story almost immediately. Instead of spending so much time “going to print,” why not retain the Jerry Bosserts and John DaSilvas of the world and update the technology to get these guys front and center. The New York Times was once the dream job of anybody aspiring to be a first class journalist; now, they have seen several of their sports writers leave for Bleacher Report and other websites. Former Yankee beat writer Jack Curry left for Yes.com and now with his good looks and great hair, is part of their television broadcasts, too
There may not be as many print reporters in the press box, but the racing will go on and it will be great. New racing director Martin Panza has put together a second-to-none schedule, and for those who extol Del Mar and Keeneland, the truth is, Saratoga is number one. There are more stakes races at the Spa than anywhere else. Del Mar claims 34 stakes races for its 2014 meet, but there are many $90,000 races that they call stakes races. At Saratoga, there are allowance races with purses of $85,000, so for Del Mar to claim a $90,000 race as a stakes race fools nobody. Panza has also tried to reduce the number of races per day. No more 11 race cards on Mondays, Wednesday or Thursday, a topic that got a lot of run at the presser a few weeks ago. A nine race card has always been the norm for most race tracks, but this is Saratoga and having 10, 11 and even 12 race cards is simple economics. This is where NYRA makes it money, and if they had 15 races, there would be people there to bet on them. Sure, starting at 1 pm and being done by 5:30 is ideal, but horse racing relies on handle to pay its bills. Panza deserves credit for being realistic, but NYRA needs these 40 days to turn that profit. As good as Belmont is, a good crowd there is 15,000, something that Saratoga exceeded by 10,000 on the first day.
Saratoga is also the place to see stars. The best horses, the best trainers and the best jockeys make this place special. In yesterday’s traditional opening day feature, The Schuylerville, the winning filly was Fashion Alert. How good will she be no one knows, but what the public does know is that the filly is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, and the Saratoga patrons certainly know that combination is at the top of the sport.
Palice Malice will be here, and right now, he is the best horse in training. Wise Dan worked out the other day, and right now, he is the 2012 and 2013 Horse of the Year. If you pay attention to horse racing, there is not a tougher horse in the United States than Wise Dan. The Whitney, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Jim Dandy, the Travers and the Woodward will be run and star horses will emerge to be sure. As soon-to-be-retired track announcer Tom Durkin says, “they’re off,” so sit back and enjoy the 39 days that lie ahead.