OCTOBER 1, 2018
Saratoga. Saratoga Springs. Thoroughbred racing. The Mecca of thoroughbred racing. The summer vacation spot to be in August. The grand old lady. Streets lined with historic homes. Sweet corn and tomatoes practically off the vine. Etc. etc. Sounds great. Well, there’s only one problem: The New York Racing Association (NYRA). NYRA runs thoroughbred racing in Saratoga (as well as Belmont and Aqueduct).
The thoroughbred racing meeting ended on September 7, so I figured it was time to release some of my earlier thoughts, comments, recommendations, etc., about NYRA. Here are three of my oldies but beauties from the past when I had predicted that weekday attendance would drop from 15,000 to 2,000. How little did I know. And how wrong could I be? It is now under 1,000. I’m certain two absolutely beautiful 750 Fall days (9/26-7) had less than 250 betting fans at Belmont.!
“On NYRA” (The Williston Times, 9/16/96):
“Quite frankly, I am both flabbergasted and disappointed in the media’s coverage of NYRA and NYRA-related activities. There appears to be an unwritten law among turf writers not to provide any bad press on NYRA. As indicated earlier, the two words commonly used by the racing group I associate with to describe NYRA is incompetence and arrogance. The net result of NYRA policies is that more and more of the fans are not coming back. The two extremes – the young and the old fan – no longer find a day at the NYRA races a pleasurable experience. More than anything else, the writing of this article was prompted by my participation in the 1976 National Crime Commission Hearings (President Ford) as a representative of the horseplayer”.
“There’s Another Side to Saratoga” (Daily Racing Form, 7/27/97):
“Á significant portion of the racetrack is a firetrap. Standing in line is a ritual that NYRA has come to expect from its customers. The track contains the most uncomfortable seats I have ever encountered at a racetrack. In addition, the spacing between rows is so narrow that it is extremely difficult to navigate. Expect to be gouged. Here is what Bill Finley and Surabhi Avasthi had to say in their May 5, 1996, Daily News article titled “A-Z Guide to Horse Racing in New York.” “G is for Gouged. What you will get in Saratoga Springs. The local businesses – which only have six weeks to capitalize on tourist dollars – usually jack up prices during racing season. Expect to fork over an ample portion of your winnings for a good dinner and a hotel room.”
“Blame NYRA for Empty Plants” (Daily Racing Form, 4/26/98):
“The players major concern was that NYRA has chosen to squash the betting public into a cramped space with poor lighting, lousy TV monitors and limited seating for simulcasting. They also cited long betting lines and the unkempt filthy conditions of the whole area. If NYRA could somehow treat its customers like it treats breeders, owners, jockeys, politicians and the media, the racing industry will be on its way to solving its problem at the turnstiles.”
The Queen and I along with the kids and grandkids visited Saratoga late this month and spent two days there. As usual, the experience at this dilapidated firetrap track featured the aforementioned long lines, $5 admission, $10 parking, concession rip-offs, uncomfortable seating and standing, poor race viewing, 38 minutes in between races, etc. etc. To make matters worse, the ass who runs the place (where do they find these people??) essentially closed off the seating in the upper stretch of the grandstand for most racing days. Fans did have the option of sitting on the grass or standing for 5 hours. Thank you NYRA management.
We stayed at the Gideon Putnam – a historic landmark – and the entire family (but not me) loved it. Notwithstanding my feelings, it was my 64th straight year (this has to be a record) of attending the races at the Toga. I stayed at John’s Farm in the Catskills in 1955 and the Holiday Inn ($19 /night) in 1956. As always, dinner the first night was at Parnell’s and a brief chat with owner/chef Bruce followed by breakfast the next morning at the Triangle Diner.
After reading the last paragraph, you would have to conclude that I am a glutton for punishment. And, you would be right, but old habits don’t die easily. I said good riddance on leaving Saratoga but will be back (God willing) next year. Don’t say it. I can’t be that bright, but then again, those others in attendance can’t be too bright either.
So, it’s now back to Belmont for nearly two months followed by the Aqueduct winter meeting where NYRA will once again continue to exploit the hapless horse player. Attending has dropped below 1,000 on weekdays and the idiot in charge has yet to figure out how to fix the problem. But dozens of “suits” regularly patrol the stands and I can’t figure out what they do. Ordinarily, the individual in charge would be fired…but this is NYRA. The end result is that the most beautiful of ALL racetracks is essentially barren during racing days.
I close with a tale (without details) about NYRA’s arrogance . . . they are more than just incompetent. I sued NYRA in small claims court for $22 in 2010. They were a no-show on trial date. The judge rescheduled the trial. Once again they were a no-show. The judge found in my favor. NYRA chose not to mail me the judgement. I had to hire a sheriff to collect. They sheriff walked into one of their offices and requested the money. They informed him that it was impossible but they would mail it to me in due time. He started walking out with two of their computers. Fifteen minutes later they gave him a check for ALL the charges.
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