SARATOGA SPRINGS — After Wednesday’s card at Saratoga Race Course, Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher are tied for the training title.
Just past the halfway point in the meet, that promised to make the race for the trophy named after the late Allen Jerkens a dramatic one right down to the wire.
But what sucks some of the drama out of it is the fact that Brown and Pletcher are dominating the 2017 meet so completely that every time somebody else beats them, it seems like an aberration. When they win, a reflexive “Bor-ing” sometimes pops into my head.
In fact, with a combined 48 victories, Brown and Pletcher had won 20.8 percent of the 231 races run, Day 23 of 40. Not only do they run a lot of horses, but Brown had a 32 percent strike rate, and Pletcher was at 28.
So we’re in line for a two-horse match race the rest of the way, which will be fun to watch as long as neither has a surge and pulls away, like Brown did last year. With three or so days left, it was essentially over.
A parallel world exists in the jockey standings, as the brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz Jr. were separated by one heading into Wednesday’s card, with only John Velazquez showing any semblance of remaining in contact, with 24.
The rest of the field in the trainers race was left behind weeks ago. The next highest total is nine, by Kiaran McLaughlin.
Of the 174 races won by someone other than Brown or Pletcher, 86 different trainers had at least one through Monday.
It sets up a situation where Pletcher or Brown could surpass Brown’s meet record of 40 victories set last year, and it won’t be enough to win the title this year.
You keep hearing about how racing is a dying sport.
“Declining” is more accurate, but, anyway, if the spirit of this week’s inaugural Equestricon convention is any reflection of the sport’s popularity and sustainability, racing will be OK.
Event organizers seemed pleased with the turnout and said they want and expect to do it all over again during the 2018 meet.
By all accounts, the convention was well-organized, informative and lively, and offered a diversity of attractions. Oh, and fun. Don’t forget that part.
One built-in challenge to these types of conventions is how to draw the uninitiated. I don’t know, maybe that isn’t even that much of a priority.
But if one objective is to grow the sport, you have to bring in new fans and players.
There’s no way to gauge this definitively, but I doubt that Equestricon attracted a significant number of new fans, people with no connection to racing whatsoever but who were curious enough to spend $25 for an introduction. I’d like to be wrong.
That said, it doesn’t mean that the event wasn’t productive, if for no other reason than it brought together the full spectrum of racing fans and industry folks to get ideas out there for discussion. That’s always a good thing.
Among the sport’s biggest handicaps is the absence of a central authority that would eliminate special interests and get everybody on the same page.
For example, one of the issues brought up at Equestricon was the obnoxious habit by some tracks (ahem, we’re looking at you, Gulfstream Park) who delay past the published start time of races, sometimes creating a scenario in which races at different tracks go off at the same time. A universal racing authority could solve that.
But, lacking that, an event like Equestricon at least demonstrates that solidarity can be achieved despite differences of opinion and vantage points.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take long after Equestricon’s vendors and exhibitors had cleared their booths out of City Center on Monday for another horse to die at Saratoga Race Course.
In fact, the first race back after Tuesday’s dark day left another horse gruesomely hobbled, this time right in front of the clubhouse, when Meteoroid injured his right front leg just before the sixth fence and had no choice but to jump it, landing awkwardly. He was euthanized on the track.
That brought the total of equine fatalities to 14 on Saratoga Race Course grounds since the Oklahoma training track opened in April. Of those, 12 have occurred since the meet began on July 21, and seven of those happened during racing, the rest during training.
The New York Racing Association has conducted just six steeplechases this meet, and there have been two fatalities, despite the fact that there’s one less fence on the course this year.
They need to examine whether steeplechasing simply isn’t meant for this track anymore.
Actually, they need to continue to examine a lot of things, which they assure us they are, and I believe them, if for no other reason than this is bad for business.
Of the other five racing fatalities, two occurred on the inner turf course and three were on the main track.
With 17 racing days left, Saratoga is just two shy of the most deaths recorded in a year since the New York State Gaming Commission started keeping an equine injury and death database in 2009.