Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Go see a man about a horse

How do you put the finishing touches on a lukewarm racing season that was nearly washed off the map by Mother Nature? Well, you present an over-sized key to the city to a creature lacking an opposable digit to hold the damn thing and who has little, if any connection to Saratoga Springs other than the fact that he’s a horse that has shacked up here for a few summers.

And if that’s not going bombastic enough, you proclaim a semi-official “Curlin Day” while hoisting banners proclaiming “Curlin is coming” all along the main street. Or as the Times Union’s increasingly recalcitrant Marv Cermak might say, that’s the New York Racing Association again reaching into its “bottomless bag of money-making changes that are eroding Saratoga Race Course's historic charm.”

But with the cool September breeze now rustling the still-lush green foliage of summer, NYRA needed to do something to whip up the masses for a last push to the rail. The result was a Monday morning media extravaganza announcing the upcoming extravaganza on Saturday over a horse that trained but never actually raced in the city. The whole affair is oddly reminiscent of the Funny Cide procession that swept through the Saratoga Racecourse last year, when the gelding was presented with an oversized granola cake shaped like a Rolex.

So here we stand poised again to deify a horse for little other reason than to spin the turnstiles for one last push this summer. It’s not a bad idea either, considering NYRA’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings and the fact that track attendance is down by nearly 17 percent; a factor that can largely be attributed to the faltering economy and poor early August weather.

While we’re elevating Curlin as the unofficial king of Saratoga, it’s probably best Saratogians are armed with a bit of trivia about the horse. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t named after the abbreviated post-beer binge term for the popular Canadian sport. In fact, he was named after Charles Curlin, an African-American slave who had the dubious honor of fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The name was allegedly picked by the horse’s former owner, Shirley Cunningham Jr., a blood-relative of the soldier.

Speaking of Cunningham, he was among a trio of class-action attorneys jailed after being accused of skimming up to $64 million of the $200 million judgment awarded in a diet-drug lawsuit. Curlin’s majority owner –the founder of the Kendall-Jackson vineyard –recently tried to foreclose on Cunningham’s minority share of the horse, but was unsuccessful.

So to sum things up: Black soldiers fighting for the side of slavery, crooked lawyers skimming settlement money from a bunch of hypertensive fat people and a winemaker trying to seize full control of a horse that has absolutely nothing to do with the Spa City. Now that’s Saratoga style.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

NYRA has made the historic track grounds look more like a cheap country fair. Couldn't they find anymore room for another dozen Net Jets or Shadwell Farms signs? The idea of having local restaurants selling food was a good one, but the hideous building is one that would never be approved by the City. I used to trip over NYRA people with brooms and dust pans,not this year though. There used to be grass somewhere there, now there is nothing but tents. Add to these $6.75 for a can of beer and $6 chicken sandwiches and it is obvious that Bruno may have been right, NYRA doesn't give a shit about the locals.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

Giddyap HO!

You're just the man to put the jolly HO in HORSE as yet one more equestrian God rises from the embers of a bad season. Set fire to Pegasus and bingo-- Phoenix rises from the ashes.

I salute the enthusiasm and energy of the horsey-set as much if not MORE than the fans of the gridiron and the green diamonds. Yeah horses may do drugs, but they do so with a quiet dignity and grace.

I will stubbornly resist your flailing whip as you relentlessly drive home a fear that the economy is torpedoing the canoe that is the good ship Saratoga. The season was slammed not by pink slips but by the black clouds.

The season's few clear days delivered excellent figures for both the gate and the handle. You'll do better to bet on an 88-1 longshot than another 16% drop next year. While our long-term visitors took their covered-carriages and credit cards to Broadway, the REAL BigBuck Hit came from regional visitors who saw the forecasts and dodged the hail by staying home.

The year ahead will see the economy take a HUGE fall, gas will go through the ROOF, the MidEast will be 8 hands high in shell casings.

But Saratoga will reign as the centerfold of Stay*Cations thanks to our thriving thoroughbred fixation. Like a good Martini, Saratoga is best served dry.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This city has lost much of its former character.

Money has morphed it into something classless.

The sad thing is, the problem seems to be not only a local phenomenon, but one of the whole Country.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nothin shakin on shakedown street. Used to be the heart of town. Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. You just gotta poke around."

...bring back inexpensive living and artists quick before Saratoga becomes a scene out of a Sinclair Lewis book.

(Gopher Prarie sucks, remember?)

2:50 AM  
Anonymous One asshole to another said...

The city and it's character has been lost because of money hungry politicians like McTygue and Bruno. They have gone to the well too many times.

4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you visit a city that was crazy enough to elect Val Keehn and Ron Kim?

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's Post Star...

"ALBANY — State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith says her agency has found widespread violations of labor law at Saratoga Race Course.

The labor department investigation discovered minimum wage, overtime and record keeping violations.

Smith says the probe showed thousands of dollars in wages have gone unpaid."

Saratoga's dirty little secret.
It's a sad commentary that in this day and age and with all of the money being handled at this track that these workers are being mistreated in this manner.

Who said slavery was outlawed?

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The sad thing is, the problem seems to be not only a local phenomenon, but one of the whole Country."

You can always go to where the sun always shines -- year round!

2008 Stakes Schedule
Charles Town Races & Slots 2008 Stakes Schedule
Charles Town Races & Slots has released its open stakes schedule for 2008 offering a record $900,000 in purses. The 2008 stakes program commences on Saturday night, June 21st with the $500,000 Charles Town Sprint Festival, highlighted by the $200,000 Charles Town Invitational Dash for colts and geldings at 4 ½ furlongs. That night’s card will feature three other $100,000 stakes races. August 23, the track will host 2-year-old stakes worth $100,000 each at 4.5 furlongs with divisions for colts and fillies. “We look forward to building a stakes program here at Charles Town that gets everyone’s attention,” said Al Britton, General Manager of Charles Town Races & Slots. “We’re virtually starting from scratch and know we’ll probably have to tweak it, but this schedule gives us a great start. The Sprint Festival will feature the three richest 4 ½ furlong open stakes in the country. The two year-old races will be the richest in the Mid-Atlantic region outside of Saratoga at that time of the year. Both event days should be of interest to horsemen regionally and nationally.” Charles Town, located within five hours of nine Mid-Atlantic thoroughbred racetracks, conducted 220 day of live racing year round with an annual purse distribution of nearly $40 million. Charles Town boasts the second highest quantity of slot machines at any racing facility in North America and was the highest grossing racing/gaming facility in North America in 2007 with $463 million in revenue. The track also hosts an extensive restricted stakes program for West Virginia Bred Horses including the $1,875,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Night on October 18, 2008. For more information on racing at Charles Town or its stakes program, please contact Charles Town racing secretary Randy Wehrman at (304) 724-4323 or william.wehrman@pngaming.com. Stakes nomination forms are also available at www.ctownraces.com.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. - George Bernard Shaw

What say you Horatio ? Are you a cynic ???

10:44 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


I'm sorry, I don't exactly catch your point. Are you saying my observations about Curlin-mania are inaccurate? Sorry to disagree, but I wouldn't think a man of George Bernard Shaw's ilk would lodge such a claim after watching the plastic spectacle that will precede Saturday's races.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not promote the sport's biggest star with no holds bar? How does the NBA promote their sport? Naming names. I would think the point was to make casual sports fans aware that horse racing's best is coming.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Strange that you could write about the shameless shilling for NYRA without even mentioning the mayor by name.

Scott Johnson might as well be on NYRA's payroll. Last year, the centerpiece of his campaign was a petition drive to support the award of a new franchise to a bankrupt, indicted organization that can't survive without massive taxpayer subsidies. Now, he gives a four-legged beast a key to the city while conveniently ignoring the slave wages and filthy conditions NYRA expects human workers to endure.

Maybe you"re right. From now on, we should never use his real name. Let's just call him Little Scooter, the world's smallest mayor.

12:21 AM  
Blogger A small "r" republican for fairness said...

Come on 12:21,

Don't you think it's just a little out of the Mayor's purview to dictate how much NYRA should pay its workers or how it's groomers and backstretch workers are housed?

Why don't you just blame him for not solving Global Warming while you are at it....

And your constant carping about his height is spineless and weak. You may say he's the world's smallest mayor; I say you are the world's smallest minded blogger.

Small 'r'

10:44 PM  
Anonymous mamie said...

And Small "r" has the world's smallest dick!

3:26 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

Mayor johnson giving a horse the key: empty calories for a TV and net generation, of which i am proud to be a member, but i digress...

So why stop there?

At great expense, and risking life and limb at some points, i have procured the mayor's upcoming strategy and tactics policy plan. The source remains unknown, and i was warned not to speculate.

hahaha, sure.

Anyway, starting perhaps next spring, mayor johnson will start passing keys out to the paper mache` horses that crowd the sidewalks and provide phantasy photo-op's to an un-aware tourist class every year. Perhaps as often as once a week- a regular feature to be broadcast on 900am and cap news 9 of course.

Interestingly, the loyal opposition has opted to completely ignore the equine, statue, and tourist votes. Hmmm, oh yeah- the total vote to be garnered from these important special interest groups would be?

That would be zero. as in zero calories.

...and on the revered i-saratoga bs-o-meter – absolute Kelvin (as calibrated by the commissioner who does those things) …

Overall, a real good use of resources here - keep the mayors mug visible and eventually the faux horsey's will have saddle bags (with Roohan realty and other ads? : ) - on their backs loaded with his re-election literature. giddy-up!

10:58 AM  

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