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 http://twitter.com/#!/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.