Fair of not — and make no mistake, it’s not — the success or failure of this Saratoga Race Course meet will come down to whether American Pharoah runs here later this month.
If horse racing’s superstar, one that has broken through the barrier of sports into popular culture, runs here in the Travers Aug. 29, then this meet is a rousing success.
If not, the low-hanging dark cloud will block out any rays of positivity the rest of the meet will bring.
This is a pass/fail thing. And, unfortunately for the New York Racing Association and Saratoga fans, it’s not really in NYRA’s control.
Well, they did help stage that “grassroots” #Pharoahtoga demonstration for ESPN. There is lobbying behind the scenes. Most importantly, the Midsummer Derby’s purse got jacked from $1.25 million to $1.6 million — provided Pharoah runs. That raises the winner’s share to $850,000 from $650,000.
“New York loves a champion, and there is no more fitting place for American Pharoah to continue his march into sporting immortality than competing before the greatest, most knowledgeable and most passionate racing fans anywhere in the world–right here at historic Saratoga Race Course,” NYRA CEO and President Christopher Kay stated.
Of course, this was a counter-salvo to Monmouth Park raising the purse for The Haskell, which helped blow up the field for the Jim Dandy, a marquee Saratoga race that instead became an intimate four-horse affair. Lesson learned.
Will the increased Travers’ purse be enough for Pharoah’s ownership and trainer Bob Baffert? I could definitively say yes or no, but the truth is no one probably knows right now.
And that may or may not include Pharoah’s team.
What is certain is American Pharoah is a superhorse; the debate now has shifted to where he stacks historically. Facing, and beating, a deep Travers field, and then doing the same in the Breeders’ Cup, would go a long way to resolving that argument, but there will always be differing opinions.
But one question surrounding Pharoah is easy to answer: He runs here in Saratoga, then we can call this meet a success. If not, well that would be a bad, bad beat.
SPEAKING OF HISTORIC
While American Pharoah is making history, another athlete is dominating her sport like no other.
Forget anyone beating her: Is there a woman in MMA who can last a round with Ronda Rousey?
Going into Saturday’s UFC women’s bantamweight championship in Rio de Janeiro, Bethe Correia decided some trash talking was in order. Give her this: She lasted longer than Rousey’s last title opponent, who was knocked out 14 seconds into the fight.
Correia lasted 34 seconds.
Rousey, who in 2005 briefly lived with and trained under Jason Morris in Glenville early in her career (she is not complimentary of him), has won her last four matches in a TOTAL of 130 seconds.
Coming up with a historical parallel for Rousey is next-to-impossible: The most cited is Mike Tyson, but even he didn’t have such a string of quick-strike first-round KOs.
The way Rousey is obliterating the competition, there are only three opponents who could conceivably beat her: 1) Age; 2) A male — and he better be good; 3) Boredom.
ECHOES OF SHEA
I spent a chunk of my youth and adulthood in the upper deck of Shea Stadium. And there were days I feared for my life — and it actually had nothing to do with fellow New Yorkers.
The stadium, at least in its later years, shook — literally shook — when a packed house went nuts. When Gary Carter hit a 10th-inning home run to win his first game as a Met in 1985, and Todd Pratt won the 1999 National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a walkoff 10th-inning homer, I was pretty sure the rocking, swaying, decaying barn was coming down, and I was going to be buried in the rubble.
Citi Field has not had that problem. For one, it’s only been open since 2009. And, really, there has nothing much to cheer about. At least until this past weekend.
Even the Mets players and manager Terry Collins are taken back by the new atmosphere, spawned by the Wilmer Flores saga, player moves, a sweep of the Washington Nationals and the realization New York is a legitimate contender in the National League East for the first time since 2008.
Truth is, that’s the way it used to be, and can be again — minus the risk of falling concrete.