Jul 28, 2006
Thru The Binoculars
By: JOHN PIESEN
SARATOGA IS BACK
Like everyone else involved in racing, pro or amateur, I'm looking forward to the annual 36-day Saratoga race meet that kicks off Wednesday.
First post is 1:00 Eastern.
The only that scares me is that, like the tag line on this column says, I'll be one of the senior guys there. Can it really be 50 years since a high-school kid named John Piesen slept on a bench in downtown Congress Park, and then sneaked into the Saratoga press box to ask Racing Form writer Bob Horwood for a job?
I wound up covering Saratoga for 25 years for the Form and the New York Post, and could write a book about my experiences.
On-track and off.
Maybe I will.
I rarely missed a race during those days, and watched most of those races from my favorite spot on the roof over the press box, 20 yards from the finish line. Whenever I couldn't call a photo, which was often, a placing judge to my right would be so kind as to signal me the winner before the numbers went up.
Unfortunately, nine times out of 10 it was the wrong number.
Whenever there would be a controversial call, which was often, I would rush from the roof down to the stewards' stand for an explanation from the three wise men. After a while, the kid writers in the box caught on, and followed me down to get the scoop.
I guess I should have been flattered.
Looking back, whatever happened to those years between asking Bob Horwood for a job, and becoming the old pro of the press box.
One of my most embarrassing moments came one Monday in '98.
After filing the usual six pieces for the Form, I decided to beat the crowd out moments before the ninth race. Wanted a swim and a shave before the Turf Writers' dinner.
That was the race in which Mike Smith, fresh from winning the Travers two days earlier on Coronado's Quest, broke his collarbone in a horrific spill at the first turn.
I listened to the race on the radio, but when I doubled back to the track, I couldn't get inside because there were 25,000 people and 5,000 cars coming the other way.
So I shot over to Saratoga Hospital to see Smith, only to learn that he had been helicoptered straight to Albany.
In my lifetime covering sports, this was the most single most embarrassing moment that ever happened to me.
As it developed, that injury almost cost Smith his career (much less his life), so it was great to see Mike - one of the game's really good guys -- come all the way back with Giacomo in the '05 Derby.
Just last Sunday, Giacomo, with Smith up, won his first race since the '05 Derby, and on Wednesday, Smith will ride the favorite, Desire for Excel, in the opening-day Schuylerville at Saratoga.
I don't expect to see Smith - a three-time Saratoga champ -- challenge Prado for the Spa riding title this time around, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike have a great meet over his favorite track.
And with good weather forecast, I would expect that the opening-day crowd will approach 25,000.
Thursday also will be a big-time day.
After all, NYRA will give away free of charge and no questions asked, Todd Pletcher bobblehead dolls with each paid admission while supplies last.
Surely a reason for living.
And while at the track, I plan to take some time off from figuring my Grand Slam play to take advantage of some '05 Saratoga trends.
- At 1 1/16 miles on the main turf course, posts 10 and above were 0-for-27.
- At six furlongs on the main track, posts eight and up were 4-for-66 on fast tracks.
- At seven furlongs on fast dirt, deep closers were 2-for-33.
- In turf sprints, posts one and two were 1-for-22, and posts eight and up were 1-for-20.
- At six furlongs on the main, 55 per cent of the winners went wire to wire, and three per cent of the winners were deep closers.
Funny, you never think of Saratoga as a speed track - but the numbers obviously say otherwise.
A popular rumor every year at this time suggests that The Meadowlands' Fall thoroughbred meet will be its last.
And every year the rumor proves wrong.
Only this time, it says here, the rumor will prove true. This indeed will be the last year for the T-breds at the Big M, and, starting in the fall of 2007, Fall racing in New Jersey will be conducted at Atlantic City Race Course.
All I know is everywhere I went on the Monmouth Park backstretch on Monday morning I heard this was so.
My colleagues in the press are invited to check it out.
Another racing venue headed for demise, if you believe what you read on page 2 of the New York Daily News, is New York City OTB. The News' three-graph piece quotes OTB comptroller Thompson as saying that if NYC OTB doesn't get relief soon, it will be out of business by next summer.
I think I know one reason why NYC OTB is having problems.
Just look at Monday's charts from Delaware Park, OTB's primary track that day.
They ran nine races at Delaware on Monday, and a total of 54 horses showed up. That's five-plus a race!
The only bigger disaster is the Choose Six, which provides, on good days, a $37 carryover.
A couple of baseball briefs.
A representative for Mayor Rudy called WFAN on Monday morning, and offered to put his man on the air that afternoon.
The Fan said "of course" so there was Rudy guesting on Mike Francessa's program Monday afternoon at 2:00.
Rudy's purpose was to defend A-Rod.
"It's terrible," Rudy said, "that Yankee fans are booing A-Rod. I know A-Rod very well, and he's a great guy."
But the most interesting part of the interview came when Francessa asked Rudy about the Yankees' chances to make the playoffs.
"The Yankees have a great chance," Rudy replied, " but they'll be in a dogfight all the way with Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Minnesota."
I couldn't help wondering why Rudy left out Toronto.
On Monday night, the Mets and the Phils took all the action. The fact that the Cubs and the Braves , respectively, were missing the entire right side of their infield no doubt was one reason.
The Cubs were missing Lee and Walker, perhaps their two best bats, and the Braves were missing the Jones Boys, certainly their two best bats.
So what happened?
The Braves and Cubs scored 18 runs between them and got the W's.
By the way, during my visit to the Monmouth backside, I found myself receiving some excellent information concerning upcoming races at the Shore track (and Saratoga too).
And I will be more than happy to share such information on my phone service. Call me toll free at 1-888-612-2283.
<< Back To Newsletter