Build-up to Saratoga meet not what it used to be
By Dick Powell
Saratoga opens up a week from Friday!
To say there is no buzz up here in Saratoga Springs and in the local media is a vast understatement. Let’s review.
The day before the Belmont Stakes (G1), New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued a scathing audit of the New York Racing Association’s “Financial Condition and Selected Expenses” for the period of January 01, 2012 through December 31, 2014.
In it, DiNapoli exposed what many of us have suspected; the word profit has been thrown around without substantiation by NYRA executives who are intent on proving that they are showing one without VLT revenue.
DiNapoli’s team found that, “officials overstated NYRA’s actual financial condition by excluding certain ordinary and necessary expenses (including pension contributions, post-employment health benefits and depreciation) totaling $13.2 million from profit and loss calculations. Thus, NYRA actually lost $11.5 million when VLT funding is excluded.”
So, NYRA’s phantom profit was the result of taking a huge chunk of expenses off their bottom line, paying for it with VLT revenue, then announcing to anyone that would listen that they are in the black.
Usually, after the Belmont Stakes is finished, NYRA holds a Saratoga press conference to promote the upcoming meet and display the latest items to be given away. Not this year.
For whatever reason, there was no Saratoga press conference for the first time in recent memory as it certainly appeared that NYRA did not want to take the inevitable questions about DiNapoli’s audit. So a golden opportunity was blown to promote America’s greatest race meet.
But like they say in the infomercial, “But wait, there’s more.” Last year, without any warning, it came out at the Saratoga press conference that there would not be the traditional Open House held the Sunday before Opening Day on Friday. Quite an irony there.
The decision was greatly disappointing to me because NYRA said the Open House had outlived its usefulness and the charities benefitting from it had complained about declining crowds.
Now, I am a bit of a moron so for years I believed more than 20,000 people attended the Open House annually. My source for the attendance estimate was none other than NYRA itself who would tell the local media at the end of the Open House how many people attended. Now, suddenly, nobody was coming so it was canceled even though John Hendrickson and his wife, Mary Lou Whitney said that they would have paid for it had they been told. But they were not told.
So now, you combine no Saratoga press conference (free publicity) and no Open House (free publicity) and there is little buzz. Yes, the town is packed and there has been an extraordinary amount of horses training up here for months. But, you would never know that racing is a week away.
Each Saratoga race day, NYRA will produce “Saratoga Live,” a TV show that will be seen regionally and nationally on MSG+, Fox Sports 2 and Altitude Sports. About 80 hours of live broadcasting will be televised in glorious high definition.
Added to the roster of on air talent that includes Andy Serling, Richard Migliore, Jason Blewitt and Maggie Wolfendale will be Gabby Gaudet and Tom Amoss. With six days of racing and about 410 races needing to be examined whether they are televised or not, the workload for Serling, Migliore, Blewitt and Wolfendale will be demanding.
Gabby Gaudet did an awesome job this winter at Gulfstream Park. Her race analysis skills are terrific and even though she is based in Maryland the rest of the year, she should have no trouble stepping in at The Spa.
The addition of Tom Amoss I don’t understand. He has extensive television experience from years on TVG but lacks credibility in analyzing New York racing. We are talking about betting and the more you can educate a fan, the more comfortable they will be betting. I remain skeptical that Amoss will be accepted by the toughest audience around.
If you come and visit this year, bring your wallet. No, not for the $5 bottles of water sold on track that cost $2 outside the gate. There are a couple of new restaurants in town that will be worth patronizing if you hit a large bet.
Salt and Char is in the spot that used to be occupied by Maestros on Broadway (saltandchar.com). You and your guest can have the 34 oz. dry aged prime porterhouse for $125. Throw in a baked potato for $11 and you are on your way to gastric paradise. Instead of blowing any winnings there, I hope someone invites me to go.
There is a new hotel at Saratoga Raceway, now known as Saratoga Casino Hotel (Saratogacasino.com). Inside there is a Morton’s The Steakhouse where the 12 oz. filet mignon costs $53 and the jumbo baked potato is $13.
Me, I stop at B J’s Farms’ produce stand on West Avenue in the parking lot of Minogue’s Beverage and buy a dozen ears of the best sweet corn imaginable. Go home, light the grill with lump charcoal and cook some red meat that I buy on sale in the grocery store. We usually have company during the racing season and they all go away happy. And still have some money in their wallet.