FOX SPORTS DESERVES PRAISE FOR “SARATOGA LIVE”

The next best thing in summer to actually being at Saratoga Racecourse is watching full-card races from the venerable “Spa” on Fox Sports cable channels, FS1 or FS2.  2021 is the sixth season for “Saratoga Live.”  TVG does not televise NYRA races, so Fox is the place to go for Saratoga racing.

In particular, Fox offered a welcome service to horse racing fans in 2020, who were prohibited from attending the races in person owing to the pandemic.  Fox is once again televising the entire race card every day (Wednesday through Sunday) except when NBC has a contractual agreement to cover a high-profile race like the Travers.    

What individual television viewers care for is a matter of personal preference.  In my mind, the Fox telecasts are well done, mainly because of the on-air personalities, who are all articulate and knowledgeable about what they report on.  Moreover, the on-air crew members let the participants–equine and human–be the focal point of the telecasts and do not play to the cameras.

Because of the extended length of the programs, the announcers work in two shifts.  Over the course of the telecasts, hosts Greg Wolf and Laffit Pincay III elicit analyses and picks from handicappers Andy Serling and Johnathan Kinchen.  Acacia Courtney, who also sometimes acts as a program host, and Maggie Wolfendale provide paddock and winner’s circle interviews with owners, jockeys, and trainers and assess how entries appear in the paddock before races.  Retired jockeys Richard Migliore and Gary Stevens contribute their considerable expertise mainly on racing strategy and tactics.

In the halcyon days of horse racing and large on-track crowds, racetracks were not aggressive in pursuing the new medium of television, and it cost the sport plenty in terms of public interest.  The volume of racing telecasts is now growing every year and that is a key to generating new fans and holding on to the fans racing already has. 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business

BOOK REVIEW OF “HEAD TO HEAD”

Head to Head is a 2021 book by award-winning writer Lenny Shulman and published by the University Press of Kentucky.  Its 37 chapters and 220 pages contain the author’s engaging discussions with notable personages in American Thoroughbred horse racing.

The chapters originally appeared as articles in BloodHorse magazine, where Shulman was features editor.  The 37 interviews are efficiently grouped into six categories: “Legends of the Industry, Women of the Thoroughbred World, Celebrities, Kentucky Hardboots, Veterinarians, and Kentucky Derby-Winning Owners.” 

Contributors included such well-known people in horse racing as Helen “Penny” Chenery, Marylou Whitney, Tom Hammond, Arthur Hancock III, Dr. Larry Bramlage, and Bob and Beverly Lewis. 

The interviewees’ accounts focused on horse racing, but sometimes their recollections ventured outside the sport. One example: TV and film writer David Milch told of how his great uncle once worked for the infamous Mafia treasurer Meyer Lansky as a busboy in one of Lansky’s gambling clubs in Saratoga Springs, NY, and Milch’s father was Lansky’s physician.

Prior to Shulman’s two decades at BloodHorse, he wrote with distinction for television, film, newspapers, and magazines.  Leading turf writer Steve Haskin observed “Anyone…knows what an excellent writer he is, but here [in Head to Head] he demonstrates his…skills as an interviewer.” 

Listen, for example, to Helen Alexander describe how she, as a very young woman, took over the fabled King Ranch racing operation upon the passing of her grandfather Robert Kleberg in 1974.  Or Bobby Frankel explain what differentiates a successful horse trainer from the not-so-successful.

A particularly attractive aspect of this book is that it can be read sporadically over weeks or even months without losing continuity.  One might read about the experiences of the racing-partnership pioneer Cot Campbell and then pick up the book again in a couple of weeks to learn how famed New York Yankees manager Joe Torre relieved the pressure-cooker tension of his job by spending time at a racetrack or OTB parlor, often accompanied by Yankee coach Don Zimmer.

Years from now, Head to Head will be a resource for those attracted by racing’s history, as lived and made by some of turf’s renowned participants in the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty first. 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business

ALONE IN RACING HISTORY: SPECIAL DUTY, WITH MANDALOUN LIKELY TO JOIN HER

After due process is completed, Mandaloun will almost certainly be declared the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby.  He finished second to Medina Spirit, who tested positive for a banned substance.  In the 2021 Haskell at Monmouth Park, it was déjà vu as Mandaloun again finished second, this time to Hot Rod Charlie, who was disqualified to last place.  

Consequently, if Medina Spirit is disqualified, Mandaloun will have won a Grade 1 race in May and another in July without actually getting to the wire first in either race.  This may be the only time in the history of U. S. racing that a horse will have won two Grade 1 races via disqualification, but this rarity of rarities has occurred at least once in Europe.

In May 2010, the 3-year-old filly Special Duty finished second in the British Group 1 race the 1000 Guineas to Jacqueline Quest at Newmarket and then two weeks later she ran second to Liliside in the Group 1 French 1000 Guineas (the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches) at Longchamp.  Special Duty was elevated to first place in both classic races after Jacqueline Quest was moved to second place and Liliside was relegated to sixth place.

Horse racing in Europe and America have a long history, so it is risky to say for sure that a result is an historical first.  But Special Duty appears presently to be the only dual Grade 1 or Group 1 winner through disqualification, with Mandaloun odds-on to to join her in the future.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business