Several miscellaneous observations about horse racing at the Saratoga Race Course.

License plates from all over the United States and parts of Canada can be seen around Saratoga during the racing season, demonstrating how much horse racing fans are attracted to an event that has been held annually since 1863.  One example is a gentlemen I met in the Saratoga clubhouse, who looked to be in his early 70s.  He said he and his wife drove about 22 hours to Saratoga with several other relatives, arriving for opening day.  They rented a 3-bedroom carriage house for the meet at a cost of $15,000.  Most days the men in the group attend the races and their wives join them some days.  Occasionally, they take short trips to places to sightsee and dine.  This year, they spent three days in New York City to visit sites and attend a stage play.  Every year, I meet racing fans like these, from all walks of life, who share an affinity for the storied racetrack founded by John Morrissey only weeks after the epic battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.

While it is difficult to quibble with how NYRA conducts the Saratoga meet, one need for improvement was evident from the race card this past Sunday, August 12.  NYRA prudently moved the turf races, which constituted five of the ten races on the card, to the dirt over safety concerns owing to rain.  As a result, so many horses were scratched that the fields in the five scheduled turf races were very short of entries and bettors were left with not much to wager on.  Knowing that it rains in upstate New York in July and August, why does NYRA not take precautions by carding, say, no more than two turf races per day?

Late on Sunday afternoon (August 12), the Jim Dandy Bar had all of the television sets tuned to the Saratoga races except for one that was showing the final round of the PGA Championship to a small contingent of obvious golf fans.  Tiger Woods, trying to win his first major championship in a decade, was in contention and the folks in the Jim Dandy group were watching intently and cheering him on.  They weren’t alone as the television ratings soared by 69% over last year.  This is the same phenomenon that racing experiences when even casual fans tune in to watch a Zenyatta or a Justify.  The problem for racing is that most of its television stars retire as 3-year-olds.

Young trainers like Chad Brown and Joe Sharp deserve lots of credit for their accomplishments.  Yet so does D. Wayne Lukas, who is still winning some races at Saratoga.  At nearly age 83, the “Coach” is understandably not as formidable as he was in his prime.  However, it would not be surprising to see him win another big race like a Breeders’ Cup or Triple Crown.  Hope he does strike a blow for all of us old-timers.

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