Saratoga Meet Preview

Is there anything more fun than watching Nick Zito tweak Todd Pletcher?

Last night’s annual Saratoga meet preview showed the more relaxed side of the two trainers as they, along with NYRA president Charlie Hayward, racing secretary P.J. Campo, and jockey Ramon Dominguez, talked about the weather, wagering, Lasix, and the state of racing.

Occasionally deflecting the “hard questions” to Pletcher, Zito predictably waxed poetic about Saratoga. “It’s the #1 racetrack in America,” he said. “It gets better every year.”

“It’s special. If you can make it in Saratoga, you can make it anywhere,” he added, channeling his inner Sinatra.

One of the first questions from the audience was for Charlie Hayward, about the possibility of carding shorter race cards to deal with a smaller racing population, as an alternative to moving to a 5-day racing week here, which has been discussed.  Hayward and Pletcher agreed that Saratoga, alone among U.S. racetracks, can support racing six days a week. While Hayward indicated that NYRA would look at a shorter race day, I didn’t sense a lot of support for it.

A perennial question at this event is what NYRA is doing to attract the “next generation” of racing fans. Hayward pointed to the organization’s response to the closing of NYC-OTB and the subsequent increase in both handle and attendance at the tracks. He also remarked on NYRA’s use of Facebook and!/NYRAnews to connect and share news with fans.

Looking ahead, he indicated that NYRA intends to have wireless connections available throughout the tracks, citing fans’ use of tablets and smart phones and the variety of applications available for use at the track and handicapping.  He didn’t indicate any timetable for Wi-Fi installation, but it’s good to know it’s part of the conversation.

A question about Lasix elicited spirited responses from several panelists.  Zito offered a measured opinion, saying that he’d like more information about the use and effects of Lasix.  While saying that he wasn’t crazy about the use of medication, he acknowledged that in both humans and horses, therapeutic medications need to be considered.

Pletcher was more forceful. “I am 1000% for Lasix,” he said, citing the easy accessibility of information about Lasix to gamblers, and saying that Lasix is good for horses, good for owners, and good for the public. He related an anecdote in which one of his owners, with an eye on the Lasix conversation, suggested that he was “seriously thinking” about getting out of the business out of concern for how a Lasix ban would affect his horses.

Asked what the owner of a bleeder should do in the face of the recent planned Breeders’ Cup ban on Lasix, Pletcher said simply, “Obviously look at other options.”

Later, following a discussion of synthetic surfaces, Hayward likened the proponents of a Lasix ban to those who supported early adoption of synthetic surfaces, characterizing both as “zealots.”

He quipped, “We were really lucky we were broke during the push for synthetic surfaces.”

Asked about the possibility of a cancellation tomorrow, Hayward referred to the day racing was called off in 2006.  “I asked the vet,” he said, “about the chances of horses tying up or collapsing that day. ‘100%,’ was the response.”

He suggested that Friday’s forecast is for weather less severe than it was that day and that predicted cloudiness would help mitigate the temperature; he’s expecting opening day to go on as planned.

I live-tweeted the discussion and solicited some questions from followers. One questioner directed a query to Ramon Dominguez: “In their prime, who wins, Better Talk Now or Gio Ponti?

Dominguez smiled. “That’s like asking me to choose which of my sons I love more.”

Following Hayward’s reference to the success of social media, I asked Dominguez, Zito, and Pletcher if they considered using social media to connect with racing fans.

Zito responded, “I just like to say hello them and talk to them one on one,” eliciting laughter from the audience.  “It’s a great tool, and any information you can get out there to promote the sport is great.” He glanced at his neighbor to the right. “I think Todd’s pretty good at this stuff.”  (Does Zito read @NottheToddster?)

Bouyea pointed out the Ramon Dominguez fan page on Facebook, to which the ever-humble Dominguez quickly replied, “Let me just tell you, that wasn’t created by me…the people who created it are doing a great job.” As for technology, he said, “I kind of live in a cave,” while acknowledging the importance of reaching out to the racing public.

Pletcher, who didn’t have a chance to respond, said with a smile after the panel, “No Facebook. No Twitter.”

In more than an hour of conversation, panelists discussed wagering options, media coverage of racing, and the effects of breeding for speed instead of stamina. Oddest Moment of the Evening went to the audience member who, after offering a long preamble about Pat Day’s ability to assess a racehorse, self-righteously asked, “So why, then, isn’t Easy Goer in the Hall of Fame?”

He was only slightly mollified to learn that Easy Goer had been inducted in 1997. “I have another question,” he responded.

The Hall of Fame was packed, the panelists accommodating, the audience enthusiastic. The event was, as always, a terrific way to dive into the racing season…and if you’re keeping track, we’re now just a little more than 25 hours away from the first call to the post of Saratoga 2011.

My report on the event for the Saratogian is here.

7 thoughts on “Saratoga Meet Preview

  1. i hope it cools off before i get up there. this is ridiculous. let the games begin, and have a great racing summer. see you up there soon.

  2. As said last year concerning the race meet, what I would be looking at doing is this:

    A five-day, Thursday-through-Monday week for Saratoga (Thursday-Monday works better than Wednesday-Sunday for Saratoga since many people can take a four or five-day weekend for Saratoga, extending it into Monday, going like this:

    Thursday and Friday: First post 3:00 PM throughout the meet with eight races each of these days (except for opening week when both would be nine-race programs). This would allow those coming up for a long weekend to get in close to if not a full card if coming up Thursday and/or Friday for a long weekend and allow people who have to work on Thursday and Friday to enjoy at least some of the card after work at simulcast locations and online.

    Saturday, Sunday and Monday: First post 12:30 PM with exceptions noted below.* Saturdays would be 13 races, Sundays would be 12 races and Mondays would be eight or nine races, depending on whether there is a jump race or not on that card (except for closing day and one other exception, the jump race would be on Mondays). This puts more races on what are the primary race days for both live and simulcast patrons, while the early post on Mondays is because of Monday being “getaway day” for those doing a long weekend.

    Speaking of later posts, from the last blog for Linda: 3:30 is as late as Saratoga can start a 10-race card and finish before it gets dark, that’s why I said 3:30 and not 4:00. To me, it would have made sense to do today because of the dangerous conditions today.

    As for the Lasix issue, my views are to phase out Lasix over five years. Pletcher has to understand the public perception about Lasix. To me, eliminating Lasix will cause short-term pain, but over time will help with horses who are more durable and able to make more starts more often.

  3. Forgot to note the exceptions:

    Travers Day would be 15 races with first post at 11:00 AM, with the New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase the first race on the card.

    Closing day would be 13 races with first post at Noon.

  4. Walt, you need to go work at Saratoga! Great ideas.

    I believe it’s made a world of difference at Colonial Downs to move to 3 days of night racing (Wed, Thurs, Sat), and a Sunday afternoon card. Much more pleasant for humans and horses. Colonial does have lights so that helps but starting as you said at 3:30 would certainly work, too.

  5. The local community strongly resists later post times because it cuts into local restaurant/bar business; restaurants lose an early seating. It’s one of the reasons that there aren’t more later cards.

    Hayward also recently said that consistency of post times is important for simulcasting customers, which makes sense.

  6. Teresa:

    I understand the point, but remember a few things:

    Except for the first Thursday and Friday, all such programs would be eight races instead of nine (more in line with to reflect a horse shortage, which could lead Del Mar to cut back to a four-day week as early as next year). Even with a 3:00 PM start, which would be consistent throughout the meet on Thursdays and Fridays, that would have those cards ending around 6:40 or so, or just over a half-hour later than they would for a normal 10-race weekday card (which most Thursdays have been). It might be just enough of a difference to get the person toying with coming up on Thursday instead of Friday or Friday instead of Saturday to make a differences. Also, 3:00 PM here means noon Pacific, which likely means more play on Saratoga from those at Del Mar and (the rest of California as well as) in Vegas, where Del Mar is much more popular I believe because of the later start (2:00 PM PT/5:00 PM ET).

    Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays would all be at 12:30 to keep post times consistent on those days as well (the long Saturday (13-race) and Sunday (12-race) cards are to take advantage of when the most people are at Saratoga). As noted, the early Monday post is because that for many is “getaway day,” with the card finishing early enough (4:15-4:45 depending on eight or nine races, which depends in whether the jump race goes or not as except for closing day, those would be on Mondays) so people can take in the full card and still get home in plenty of time to get a full night of sleep before work on Tuesday.

    The only exceptions to this schedule would be 15 races and an 11:00 AM post on Travers Day (again, opening with the New York Turf Writers Cup over the jumps) and closing day, which would be 13 races starting at noon to assure the card finishes before it gets dark.

    This would be a very consistent schedule that I would use for the meet beginning in 2012.

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