Saratoga Pre-Meet Musings Ahead of the 2022 Stand
We’re three days out from the start of the 2022 Saratoga meet. It’s an exciting time to be a horse racing fan, and, from my standpoint, it’s just as thrilling to be gearing up to deliver high-quality content for every race, every day.
Chances are you’re on this site because of my Saratoga stuff. This will act as a refresher for how things will work this summer, as well as a repository for several thoughts rushing through my head as a new summer meet beckons in upstate New York.
The content, and when it’s coming
I’m one of five featured handicappers in The Pink Sheet, a daily publication run by The Saratogian. It’s sold outside the track every day, and they’ve generously allowed me to post my stuff on my site as well.
Last summer, content on this little site, promoted solely on my social media and in a few published pieces, attracted more than 22,000 views. Of all the numbers and stats you’ll read in this piece, that’s the one that stuns me the most. To those that are preparing to come back for more this time around, thank you. You’re appreciated, you’re valued, and you’re the reason I still produce this content!
Unlike the other four Pink Sheet handicappers (worthy opponents, one and all), my content also features detailed analysis of each race, plus a bankroll blurb. I start each summer with $1,000, and you can track my fluctuations each day. One note here: All bankroll plays assume races carded for turf stay there. Surface changes void all plays, as do scratches.
Picks and analysis will generally be available about 36 hours before the races. For example, Thursday is opening day, and my content will be posted on Tuesday night. This is for several reasons, not the least of which is so editors in Saratoga aren’t waiting for me on deadline when I’m on the west coast and three hours behind. Bankroll plays will be available at the conclusion of the prior day’s action (if I could write that stuff in advance, I’d never lose!).
Last summer…was a really, REALLY good one. My 142 top-pick winners led all public handicappers at local media outlets. My ROI was $2.04, which meant you turned a profit by betting each of my top picks all summer long. My bankroll blurbs also proved profitable, as I grew a starting stake of $1,000 to $1,277.10.
I can’t promise I’ll replicate that success. It’s far and away the best Saratoga meet I’ve ever had as a public handicapper. In all honesty, it’s probably one of the best Saratoga performances by any every-race, every-day public handicapper in the media corps in recent memory. That isn’t ego or bluster. It’s grounded in numbers, made public for everyone to see every day.
There are a few things I can promise, though. The motivation for those promises comes from a strange place.
During and after the meet, there were a number of things that were said by several people that I noticed, and I took a few of them personally. It would appear my existence (and, in this case, my success) rubbed some people the wrong way.
Here are some facts: I love this game, I love the puzzles that are presented on a daily basis, and I love pari-mutuel wagering. It’s my money against your money and the money of anyone else who wants to put it down. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but either way, there’s another puzzle to solve in 30 minutes. Want to talk horses? Grab your form, pull up a chair, and let’s do it.
You have to love those things, because this game is HARD, especially at the highest level. Public handicappers don’t have the option to skip races (as an aside, many who bash analysts on network broadcasts would be very wise to remember this). We grind, and we grind, and we grind some more, and after 40 days, we see where we stand when the dust settles.
When good things happen, I’m going to celebrate. It might put a target on my back, but if you’re not proud of hard work leading to tangible success, why do the work?
I respect everyone else who does this, at Saratoga and for any track, anywhere in the world. If someone beats me and claims either the all-media title or the Pink Sheet title, I’ll shake his or her hand, look him or her in the eye, say “good game,” and mean it. If anyone wants to believe otherwise, that’s his or her right. And it’s my right to say he or she is full of it.
After last summer, though, something I said in the heat of the meet rings true. Twitter egomaniacs can pound their chests about who the best handicapper on horse racing Twitter is. 10 months out of the year, I genuinely don’t care who’s mentioned.
However, from mid-July through Labor Day at one of horse racing’s last remaining cathedrals, if that conversation doesn’t include me, it’s a bad one.
When it comes to Saratoga, I won’t be outworked. When you come onto my website or buy a Pink Sheet at the track, you’re getting the product of someone who enjoys getting his hands dirty in the name of both competition and helping people make money.
I can’t promise a meet like last summer, or a day like the last Friday of the meet. I went 8-for-10, picked six straight winners in the middle of the card, publicly gave out a late Pick Four that paid nearly $400, and drove my former podcast co-host crazy.
What I can promise is the kind of process you, the reader, have hopefully come to expect from me. If that leads to results that tick a few people off, so be it.
Odds and ends
There are two significant renovations at Saratoga that will be front and center this summer. I’m not crazy about either of them.
The first is the Wilson chute. It runs parallel to Nelson Avenue and allows Saratoga to card one-mile dirt races. On the surface, this seems fine. More options aren’t a bad thing, and if there are enough dirt milers on the grounds to fill races, so be it.
However, two-turn dirt races are growing more and more sparse. The American horse racing industry is breeding for “brilliance” and one-furlong times at 2-year-old sales, not for horses to have long careers or run longer distances.
Consider this: The first two Saratoga cards are out, and they feature a total of two two-turn dirt races. They’re both mid-level claiming races, the types that may not have existed in Saratoga condition books a few decades ago.
If the Wilson chute provides another wrinkle in the condition book and contributes to a fun product, great. Still, I don’t like the direction this is going. If we’re stretching out seven-furlong races, cool. If two-turn races that are already too rare happen less, I think that’s a loss for horse racing.
The other renovation comes in the form of a new story on top of the paddock bar. It’s become a new premium seating option, available to groups for a few thousand bucks per day. I tweeted about this, and I’d like to further express myself in an environment that doesn’t have a character limit.
I grew up going to Saratoga with my dad. We’d get there early and get a picnic table in the backyard. I’d politely pester jockeys for autographs before the race, on the walk from the jockey’s room to the paddock.
The changes that have been made are chipping away at the types of experiences that got me hooked on this game, and for what? Nobody asked for a section of picnic tables by the Big Red Spring to be roped off and available for a fee. Nobody asked for access to jockeys to be limited before races. Nobody asked for Teresa Giudice to be trotted out as a “celebrity guest,” or for Chris Kay’s thankfully-aborted brainchild, a jockey house in the Saratoga paddock that would’ve eliminated what little jockey access still exists.
In the past, NYRA has handled premium seating with aplomb. The 1863 Club opened to rave reviews a few years ago, and The Stretch seems to be well-received, too.
However, I can’t shake one thought: Nobody asked for the massive structure that now exists by the paddock. It comes across as wildly exclusionary, and consider this: What happens if a 2-year-old, or any horse for that matter, gets spooked by noises coming from up above? Was this a thought NYRA had when constructing the building, or did the pursuit of the almighty dollar render that concept meaningless?
Also: Sorry to say it, but the building just seems ugly and soulless.
I don’t have a particular axe to grind (sorry to disappoint you conspiracy-minded folks out there, but most turf writers don’t). I give NYRA credit where it’s due, especially on their excellent TV programming. These two ideas, though, seem like misses, and I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that.