Stir the Champagne

Given the longstanding trend of small fields in high-priced stakes (it’s been a trend for a decade), Saratoga horse racing fans should be glad that eight horses’ numbers were drawn for Saturday’s Gr. I Whitney Handicap.  The assignments were made in the walking ring at 11:00 am Wednesday.  New York Racing Association odds-maker Eric Donovan tabbed last year’s winner, Fort Larned, the 7-5 favorite.

Ian Wilkes, trainer of reigning champion and current favorite Fort Larned, at morning Whitney Stakes draw.

The Whitney name will be prominent all weekend.  Marylou Whitney and husband John Hendrickson unveil the new Whitney viewing stand at the Oklahoma training track to the media on Thursday morning.  On Friday evening, Whitney and Hendrickson will ride with soap opera star Susan Lucci in one of several flower-covered horse-drawn carriages down Broadway to Congress Park.  There they’ll partake with the public in an old-fashioned ice cream social.  Then on Saturday comes the big race that bears the family standard.

Today, the quality of competition was mixed at the Spa course.  Several NY-Bred races were contested including an Optional Claiming 50K/Allowance race on the grass called the Olivia Marie Saylor purse.  Saylor was the late daughter of Paul Saylor, owner of Eclipse champion Fleet Indian who keeps her memory alive with the sponsorship while giving to Race for Education.  Longshot Karakorum Elektra took the 5 ½-furlong sprint.

Hyper, a son of Victory Gallop, won the sixth race – another turf race, the 1 5/8 miles $100,000 John’s Call.  Hyper went off at 8-5 but it wasn’t that clear before while the windows were open.  The race had two horses from England, one from France and another from Chile that seemed intriguing. Looking back on the Racing Form with hindsight, why wouldn’t you bet him?  Hyper’s won nine of 20 starts now – a real money machine.

It’s been very European of the racing department to card some of the bigger races earlier in the program than usual.  What this does is exposes the best of the sport to the curious visitor who doesn’t have the patience to stay through an entire afternoon.  Over-saturation may be at the heart of the racecourse’s soft attendance figures.  Numbers are down despite the sesquicentennial and, contrary to what’s being offered as the excuse, it’s not the weather. Saratoga is the “August Place to Be,” not the “July, August and September Place to Be.”

The 11:00 am lines outside the Union Avenue belie the season's soft attendance numbers.

Scarcity is the secret to luxury retailing.  When you have something available all the time it becomes less desirable. Nobody at NYRA will give in to this reality because it flies in the face of prevailing left-brained logic.  There’s no room for contradiction in a society that thrives on conventional thinking.  Instead of fixing the problems of Belmont Park so it pulls its own weight, it is easier to dilute Saratoga on the premise that it produces more business.

Chris Kay had better not learn horse racing from the people who have caused the situation that put him in his post.  It’s time to stir the Champagne and learn from what made it tasty in the first place.

Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers.  He spent most of the years as a marketing man for products that nobody needed but most people found enjoyable.

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