By MARK HOFFMAN
For The Recorder
Today, we’ve reached the midway point of the 2017 Saratoga Race Course meet. I have quite a few observations from the first 20 days. I’ll try to condense them in my column this week.
All is not bad for this year’s edition of the world’s greatest horse racing meet. But, there are signs that the premier NYRA meet could get a bad rap and it’s not what you think in my eyes.
First, the racing has been excellent. There are short fields in certain races, but others are full with great wagering opportunities. When you look up at the board and the favorite is 7-2, you know you’re going to get a great payout if you win. So far, we’ve seen the top 3-year-old filly (Abel Tasman) head to the Alabama Stakes as the favorite with her Coaching Club American Oaks victory. The Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming) and Preakness (Cloud Computing) winners both made an appearance at Saratoga, albeit a losing one for each. The top turf mare in the world, Lady Eli, continues to show her courage and will to win by over coming odds. Last but not least, the second-rated thoroughbred in training took a big step in becoming the top thoroughbred horse with Gun Runner’s victory in the Whitney Handicap.
While I’ve scaled back with my daily Saratoga Handicapping to just stakes action and a bankroll play, I’m having a record year with my own personal plays. Maybe it’s just that the pressure’s off or just that I can take my time on each race, look at the horses entered and get lucky. So far, this is the second straight year where I’ve showed a profit. While I do selections for people to follow, I’ve always said, do your own handicapping each race and come up with an opinion. My selections were always just an aid, the real handicapping decisions come from hard work that you put in.
Now, two troubling aspects in my opinion: One with the direction Saratoga is heading commercially and the other with the picture that is being presented by various news outlets on the sport of thoroughbred racing in regards to its equine athletes.
Is it me, or has the Saratoga meet become more commercial and less about what everyone comes for: the racing?
We have become inundated with every aspect of the Saratoga meet in regards to pricey available tables, dining areas and unique places at the track. You even have to pass through a metal detector to gain entrance to the track this year. Going to Saratoga today is like going to a concert or any other big crowded function. In the past, it was $2 to get in, $5 to park and you could bring in anything you wanted, expect glass items.
But today, there is such a push for all the other elements of a day at the track and the horses come second. I used to come the Spa with betting money only and didn’t have to worried about all the other amenities. But the new NYRA focuses on that 40-day fan of the sport who only shows up for July and August and maybe makes a play during the Triple Crown season. Bring your wallets and pocket books when you come, you’re going to need them.
Now, I’ll address that 800-pound gorilla in the room, the reports of thoroughbred deaths the first half of this year’s meet. Right off the top, no one is killing any thoroughbreds at Saratoga. The way it comes across by some media outlets make it sound that way. Every thoroughbred I’ve had contact with in the past 30 years at Saratoga has had the utmost respect from its handlers and owners. Accidents happen and thoroughbred racing is not immune to it. Horses have heart attacks, just like humans, and unfortunately die. Horses that race may take a miss step and cause an injury that could be catastrophe and must be put down. Injuries occur in all sports, with a 1,000-pound animal that has small, athletic legs, the stress is too much sometimes. It’s unfortunately part of the sport.
But, in my opinion, there has been an unneeded focus by certain news outlets regarding something that unfortunately occurs. This focus puts a bad light on a sport and raises questions by people who are uninformed and don’t know the whole story. Nobody is doing anything to cause harm to the horses at Saratoga this summer. Nobody.