Monday, August 27, 2007

Playing the numbers

This just in from the city desk: The New York Racing Association has announced abysmal attendance numbers for Saturday’s running of the Travers’ Stakes this season. Only 38,909 people showed up at the Saratoga Race Course Saturday, a whopping 4 percent decrease from the previous year’s number and the worst turnout since 1981 as one paper wryly pointed out. The sudden drop has forced NYRA officials to abruptly cancel the last six days of this year’s meet and has called into question the future of racing in New York altogether.

“We never expected racing in Saratoga to hit such a low note,” bemoaned stone-faced NYRA spokesman John Lee, during a hastily convened news conference at the track Monday morning. “Sometimes, you just have to know when to bite the bullet, cut your losses and move bravely into the future.”

This is a farce of course; the track isn’t closing. In fact, the overall attendance is better so far this year than last. But with the media’s recent infatuation with attendance numbers and NYRA’s determination to obfuscate them, it’s getting difficult to tell exactly what the season has been like. Just days after the future of racing was burning so bright, it’s looking bleak now, thanks to a few thousand less people turning out for the Travers’ Stakes.

Not that the numbers really have nothing to do with the health of Saratoga Springs, its track or whether either will remain fiscally solvent in the future. The only true barometer of the track’s vibrancy is the numer of ducats being forked over at the pari-mutuel windows. If the handle is high, so is morale among the rank-and-file at NYRA. For all they care, a whopping three dozen fans could turn out to the races, just as long as each one wagers a cool million. Most racing aficionados understand this.

Keep in mind, the track has never closed due to a lack of attendance. Eight months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and when hundreds of thousands of Americans were headed overseas for war, the race season carried on; it wasn’t until the following year it was shuttered due to national travel restrictions, not because of a lack of people wanting to throw money at horses.

The lights on Union Avenue were also darkened in 1911 and 1912, after the state Legislature placed a short-lived ban on wagering at the races; hence the aforementioned postulate about the overall handle. The only other time the track was shuttered was in 2006, when blistering heat caused fears among some that the horses themselves might start dropping off like flies. NYRA officials, undoubtedly fearing a slew of very public attacks from PETA and other likeminded agencies, decided to call off the races.

In truth, the overall attendance figures NYRA posts are bunk to begin with. It’s impossible to gauge the number of people filing in for a day of races when a good percentage of them never came through the gate to begin with. The sweatshop-produced garbage the track frequently doles out on Sundays can tack hundreds of thousands onto the final attendance results, obscuring the true number of warm-blooded bodies that actually sat down for a race or three.

So it’s a bit of a wonder that the media would bother to follow track attendance so tenaciously over the course of any given season. It’s not like the bloody race course is going to close any time soon. Even a pronounced dip over the course of several seasons would hardly be cause for alarm. This season, it’s been a focal point in just about every news agencies; bullshit stories following the ebbs and flows of attendance.

Yet for some reason, local editors and producers feel the need to beat track season down the throats of the public in any way they possibly can. Quick-hit one-stop-shop pieces about the bogus attendance levels seem to suit this purpose well, even though they have about as much interest and bearing as the prototypical weather story.

On an almost unrelated side note, NYRA failed to send i-Saratoga the memo explaining the “cult hero” status of Sam the Bugler. Sam Grossman, who plays at all NYRA’s thoroughbred tracks, is well regarded figure in the Spa City. However the term “cult hero” as used in Monday’s Saratogian, seems a bit of an overkill. Some define this as “an extreme or excessive admiration for a person,” while others consider it an underdog “who gives 100 percent” every time they take the field. Though Sam is a personable fellow who can play one hell of a bugle, he somehow doesn’t conjure these images.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Horatio,

Not a cult hero? Between myself, Marylou Whitney, David Zecchini and the Peppermint Pig, we are the A Team of Saratoga! Bask in my glow, biaattch!


3:54 PM  
Blogger Kor¥ Blinn said...

I got to see Sam everyday at the race track for several years. I know the guy is a great guy. But I can't get the picture of him playing his trumpet in his underwear and hat after coming out of the showers in the jockey quarters.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot NYRA. I order 8 extra barrels of crepe mix, and you go and chop off the last six days of the race season. What the f-ck am I supposed to do with all this damn batter? Crap! Crepes! Would it be possible to have another art horse contest, except this time use crepes?


3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

people love Sam. ask him how many pictures he poses for with fans each meet. ask him how many times he stops on the way through the crowd to play a little something for a disabled girl in a wheelchair or a couple at the track on their 50th anniversary. ask him how many people know his name, even though he has no recollection of who the hell they are.

here's the deal. he's highly regarded by fans. he's a source of entertainment every single meet. his image is published countless times each year in newspapers and broadcast countless times each year on the television. anyone who's been to SRC knows who he is. he has a widely-accepted and publicly-known nickname.

cult hero? maybe not. but is it so far fetched a term for him that it warrants a debate?

love your posts, horatio... keep 'em coming!

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's quite a quote attributed to me. yikes!
And if Sam is not a cult hero at the Spa, he is at least a ROCK STAR.

John Lee

11:36 AM  

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