The 2018 summer racing season unofficially ended last weekend when Saratoga and Del Mar closed their doors on Labor Day. Racing on both coasts was successful based on total handle numbers that accounted for both on track and interstate wagering increases. Del Mar was up almost $30 million from last year and despite having more than 50 races moved from the turf due to inclement weather, Saratoga had its second highest all-sources handle for the six-week meet.
Good news for sure. Even a small track like Ellis Park saw increases in daily handle for a meet that doesn’t generate the buzz, competition, or bettors like the big two. Oh, and lest I forget, Kentucky Downs where big fields, big purses, low takeout, and an European-like turf course shows everyone the excitement a five-day meet can garner.
Now NYRA heads back downstate to Belmont, California racing moves from the beach to the mountains, Churchill runs in September and November – hosting the Breeders’ Cup to boot – Gulfstream runs day 200 (do they ever not race?), Laurel continues to be the little engine that could and Keeneland offers racing for three weeks to coincide with their sales.
There is no doubt great racing available at meets that fans, bettors, and horsemen look forward to. (I know at least a few friends who will be swinging away this fall at Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma. You know who you are.) All this being stated, Thoroughbred racing for me, as a whole, drags from now until Breeders’ Cup. Akin to February when everyone awaits March Madness, fall racing is looking forward instead of living in the moment.
Maybe it’s the return to work schedules or no more lazy summer days to fill, but as the sun lowers in the sky, horse racing attention wanes in return. Sure, get after race cards filled with state-bred claimers or delight in the fall colors and friendliness at Keeneland, I just can’t get psyched up like I do during the summer racing season.
Maybe it’s football, which by the way I don’t watch or follow and by all accounts didn’t miss anything in the NFL season opener. Maybe it’s the downer of shorter days, heavier clothes and winter’s calling. Between you and me, I do miss Saratoga, even in the face of stewards who consistently bumbled through inquiries, Pick 5 races that were taken off the turf after the sequence began (twice in a week!) and the searing heat that went along with thunder-booming rain.
Who knows I could be alone in my racing doldrums; I doubt it. You can tell me otherwise, but horse racing turns its lonely eyes to Churchill Downs and the Breeders’ Cup on November 2 and 3.
Until then I’ll be rooting on a little filly, Sooner Schooner, hopefully debuting later this month and awaiting the latest edition to the Derby Day Racing Stable, a two-year-old Trappe Shot colt, Painismygain, to hit the track.
But just maybe there’s a Pick 5 worth taking a stab at. More on that next week…
Saratoga photo courtesy of NYRA