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Dec 11, 2009

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi


            I can remember all the way back to when I was about eight years old (I am only 35) waiting for the weekend so we could go to the racetrack. What a fun time that was. Watching the races, the great jockeys, the great horses and doing this surrounded by a lot of other fans. Nowadays that is a thing of the past. There aren’t the big crowds any more, great jockeys are far and few between and the great horses you better not blink because they are here and gone in a flash. The “great” trainers have gone by the wayside, we now have “super trainers” that do things that just don’t seem possible but that topic is for another day. I can remember thinking when I would go back to school the class would talk about Summer vacations how I thought it was weird that no one else would be talking about the greatest place on earth, Saratoga Racetrack. That was our family vacation every year, I should add that most vacations revolved around racetracks, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Monmouth, etc.

            In the summer of 1981, August 10th to be exact we were where we always were when August came, at Saratoga. The first race that day was just a plain old Allowance race that carried a purse of $32,000, but it really wasn’t just a plain old race. GENUINE RISK, was the 1-9 favorite in the race. For those of you who don’t know who GENUINE RISK was, she was RACHEL ALEXANDRA before RACHEL ALEXANDRA. It was only a four horse race but it didn’t matter it was a Kentucky Derby winner in the first race at Saratoga, not an uncommon occurrence back in those days—the days when the top horses ran more than five times a year. Needless to say she was an easy winner by more than eight lengths in a very sharp time of 1:21:2 under my favorite jockey at the time Jeff Fell. That was only her third start of 1981 but it was also her last, she never raced again but just remembering being there for that brings back great memories. Coincidently, six years later on the same date, August 10th, 1987 another champion would run in the first race at Saratoga and again I was there. LADY’S SECRET made her last start on this date however she didn’t have the same result as “RISK” she bolted and was eased at 30 cents to the dollar. But again I was there to watch another champion, not in a $1 million dollar race but in an allowance race. The reason I brought up the good old days was because of the opening of Hialeah Park in Florida on November 28th.

            Hialeah opened its doors for live racing on Saturday November 28th but the only thing is it wasn’t for Thoroughbreds it was for quarter horse racing. This is the first step in what the owners hope will lead back to Thoroughbred racing at what once was one of the most beautiful tracks in North America if not the top one. I was there when I was 12, they weren’t open for live racing at the time, Gulfstream was running but you were allowed to visit. The track was something to see and it took you back to a day and age when horse racing ruled the sports pages. Today, even ESPN who broadcasts all the Breeders’ Cup races does not make horseracing a priority. Go to their website and try to find the link to their horse racing page, you have a better shot at hitting the pick six on a $2 wager. You would think that considering they broadcast the Super Bowl of racing there would be something very visible as soon as you get to the homepage. A week before the Breeders’ Cup the advertisements pick up but the rest of the year, nothing.

            The owner of Hialeah, John Brunetti is hoping that all the money he is spending and all the steps leading up to a possible return to Thoroughbreds is worth it. If the re-opening of Hialeah was any indication then things are looking up. A crowd estimated at more than 20,000 for opening day shows that the true fans out there still want for the days of old. They would rather be at a racetrack instead of sitting in some simulcast facility. I understand it is only one day but hopefully Hialeah can get back to where they belong; as Brunetti put it, the Saratoga of the South. I was witness to another great landmark go to the wayside when Roosevelt Raceway closed down in 1988. So many of the friends I have now used to talk about the good old days of Roosevelt. If you want to try to go back in time, go to youtube and watch some of the races from the early 1980’s and even before that. Those were the days but because of greed of some politicians it is gone. Take a look at Yonkers and how well they are doing with the slot machines, that should be just 10 minutes away from where I live to go watch the harness races at Roosevelt. Like the saying used to go, “Where it all began where it is today”. Well it isn’t there today; let’s hope that Hialeah can be.



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