The focus of attention at Saratoga was not on the racetrack but in a room at the City Center. CEO Charlie Hayward and Turnberry Consulting’s Paul Roberts, who was hired in 2008 to help NYRA envision the future, laid out several ideas before the public about how capital improvement money could be spent once it’s generated from Aqueduct casino proceeds.
From Roberts’ lips to God’s ears; he is an engaging chap who knows of what he speaks. More importantly, what he spoke about seemed just what the track needs. Nevertheless, while his presentation dwelt on major themes and big ideas, the audience seemed interested in more immediate concerns.
By this time next year, Hayward expects to present to the NYRA Board a plan that may include a permanent air-conditioned hospitality structure to replace the At the Rail tent, a backyard expansion that involves moving the Lincoln Avenue entrance and a three-tiered building at the top of the stretch where fans can buy meals for $15. The most exciting ideas, however, are renovations.
One calls for a paddock redesign that places the racing offices and jockeys quarters at the rear of the walking ring and provides for stadium viewing opportunities at the north end. The other would redefine the historic saddling shed, now partly devoted to offices, into two long bays of betting windows divided by a champagne bar.
Among the complaints heard were that the new tote boards blocked the view of the backstretch, that the paddock and saddling enclosures didn’t allow fans to see the horses and that the television monitors and public address system were inadequate. There were requests, which were quickly dismissed, that the infield be opened.
Short fields are beginning to plague the waning days of racing. Dark Thunder, a four-year-old gelding that’s come to hand for trainer Todd Pletcher with four consecutive victories, beat only three other horses in the $75,000 Island Whirl Stakes. Harbor Mist emerged the winner among five betting interests in the $75,000 Anne M. Clare Stakes.
By winning on Sweet Cat in the eleventh and final race, John Velazquez moved ahead of Angel Cordero, Jr. into second place among jockeys with victories at Saratoga. A trainer who was also the jockey rode his horse to victory in the steeplechase. The seventh race illustrated the extent to which commercialism has its influence. It was named the River 99.5 FM Valvoline Instant Oil Change.
Angel Cordero, Jr. and John Velazquez - NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photo
Two of the three fans selected to make a $1000 win wager, Eddie Pannell of Little Rock, AR and Staci Pierson of Portland, MI, won $1800 each on their bets. It was Veteran’s Day. If you peer through binoculars, you can see the changing colors of the leaves on the trees in the backstretch.
Two veterans of clubhouse service, Dave Smith and Fred Quackenbush, wear caps that honor veterans of military service.
Vic Zast is the author of “The History and Art of 25 Travers.” He’s attended the races in Saratoga for 48 straight summers.