Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Dubai Sky in the paddock before the first race at #Saratoga on Saturday. Was really looking forward to seeing what Twirling Candy's little brother would do in his debut.The Sanford field entering the stretch. Mr. Z is caught in traffic ...Be Bullish heading back to the barn after finishing second in the fifth at #Saratoga on Saturday. Such a fan of this game 9YO gelding, who's on the verge of reaching $1 million in earnings.Waiting for the bell.Macho's barn. #BC13Beholder. #BC13 #breederscup #DistaffWise Dan finds the Santa Anita grass to his liking. #BC13 #americasbestracing

Media Matters

A couple of years ago, I stopped at one of the newsstands in my neighborhood to pick up a magazine with a cover story that was being much discussed online, even though it wasn’t available digitally because the publisher was a web skeptic. A student from a local business school stopped me as I left to ask a few questions. He was doing a survey for a class, and he wanted to know what I’d bought, and why I had done so. Because how else could I read the story I wanted to read?, I replied. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I’ve never gone in there. I don’t buy print media.” It turned out that the class assignment was to talk to people who bought products or went to stores with which the students were unfamiliar. It was an empathy exercise, and I was the weirdo.

I laughed and moved on, but the brief conversation stuck with me — to this 20-something guy, a newsstand — a natural part of my then 30-something physical and intellectual landscape — was an alien space frequented by customers who made inexplicable purchases. The encounter comes back to me when I read pieces about the decline of newspapers, about disappearing print; I think about how print still has a place in media, in getting the news to people, and yet how to a rising audience, news is disaggregated and fragmented, delivered by social network and consumed on mobile devices. If you follow the business of media, you know the stats and trends.

“Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now,” writes New York Times media reporter David Carr in his column this week, “and not just when seismic events take place, but in our everyday lives. We are sponges and we live in a world where the fire hose is always on.” Carr — a journalist rooted in old media but adept at the new — took the train to Saratoga on Thursday, and used the time to catch up on his print reading. His fellow passengers shouted into cell phones and complained about the weak wi-fi.

I’m sure among the those wireless users were people trying to access DRF.com or Blood-Horse, or sites such as Horse Racing Nation or America’s Best Racing. (It was the Ethan Allen Express the day before Saratoga opened, after all.) Steve Haskin, in his latest column, lists the last two among the racing outlets that have largely replaced newspapers in racetrack press boxes, which are now mainly populated by “free-lance writers or bloggers,” not the honorable “fraternity” of sports journalists who once smoked, drank, and typed their way to “the top of the food chain.” Haskin sees a worrisome change:

We may not realize it, but this is a microcosm of what is happening to the sport on all fronts, in that we have lost one of the main concepts of journalism — force the public to become interested, just as poker, NASCAR, wrestling, and mixed martial arts have done. Just as milk did years ago and insurance is doing now. The public has proven time and again they will buy anything if you make them. Make racing a product in demand and the newspapers will return, and so will the journalists.

Forcing the public to become interested in racing sometimes seems to me the primary mission of many of the freelance correspondents and bloggers now occupying the press box seats of the sports writers Haskin misses. (Noted: I don’t exclude myself from that bent; I work for the Breeders’ Cup on their digital media initiatives, such as this year’s dedicated Breeders’ Cup Challenge website, which is publishing original and aggregated content.) And they’re doing that (we’re doing that) via the channels people click, not newspapers.

Like many others, I was thrown last week at the news that the New York Daily News eliminated its racing coverage and laid off Jerry Bossert. He was the last daily turf writer at any of the city’s daily newspapers; he filed picks and recaps, wrote features and profiles, nipped at NYRA about track conditions, safety polices, and management. He covered his beat with diligence. Where does that kind of journalistic work — which includes oversight and accountability as part of an independent mission — fit into a never-ending stream filled with positive stories and viral content? It has to fit somewhere — it’s necessary. This might make me as much a weirdo as buying a print magazine at a newsstand, but I believe in journalism as a force for public good, not for public relations.

Dettori’s Spa Day

Frankie Dettori’s luggage didn’t make it to Saratoga on Friday, but he eventually did, getting to the track in time to leg up on Tiz Sardonic Joe in race seven after missing his first two rides on the card. In borrowed tack (his pants were lent by Rajiv Maragh, his crop by Julien Leparoux), Dettori rode Tiz Sardonic Joe to second (for purse money only after the horse lost a shoe in the post parade), finishing half a length behind Joes Blazing Aaron, the horse’s older half-brother out of the mare Distorted Blaze. If the Joe Bro exacta didn’t pay off for fans, Aventure Love did in race eight, giving Dettori his first ever career win at Saratoga. He followed up with his second win in race 10 aboard Jet Majesty, both for Wesley Ward, the only trainer to double on opening day. “Hopefully my tack will arrive tomorrow,” Dettori said after the eighth, “otherwise I got to take this lucky one back with me.”

Summer Begins

Saratoga opens today! Hooray! Don’t forget your mortality as you’re joining Tom Durkin in his final, traditional opening call, “And they’re off at Saratoga!” Because, “The Spa may be timeless, but we aren’t.” (I kid, Joe. That’s so true.)

John Pricci keeps up the cheer and mourns the lost: “I have no idea what opening day will be like this time; I am haunted by history.”

Today’s Schuylerville Stakes drew five 2-year-old fillies, which has Bill Finley pondering how to fix the broken juvenile racing calendar. “One solution is to simply give up,” he writes. “Do away with the earlier stakes, save money and replace with them with a couple of allowance races.” Maybe, but it sure seems like if there’s anything trainers want to do less than start 2-year-olds in early season stakes, it’s start them in allowance races, ever. (See: 1, 2.)

International superstar jockey Frankie Dettori makes his Saratoga debut this weekend, but he’ll miss his first couple of rides today due to travel troubles, tweets David Grening. He’ll have about 12 chances for a flying dismount in the winner’s circle before the end of Sunday’s card.

Last Word (This Year)

NYRA’s Martin Panza on why he’s not having conversations about changing the Triple Crown schedule by moving the Belmont Stakes into July:

“Right now if you look at the Triple Crown, a month or three weeks before the Derby is when the preps end and there’s really not another big 3 year-old race until a month after the Belmont.

“I’m not sure the rest of the tracks in America would be willing to give us a 4-month break with no big 3-year-old races and that’s what you would be asking for. I just don’t see how that could happen.

“It’s a much more complex situation than just those three races …

“And anything I do at Belmont, I’m also very conscious of not wanting to affect Saratoga. I’m trying to complement Saratoga, not hurt Saratoga.”

Fantastic Fugue

The Prince of Wales’s Stakes ended in a new course record time of 2:01.90 and a reversal of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf finish when The Fugue kicked clear to win by two lengths over Magician. “She’s proved what she can do to everybody,” said rider William Buick of the 5-year-old mare. “When she gets an uncomplicated run, she’s lethal.” She certainly was. Watch the replay:

Heavily favored Arc winner Trêve finished third. Jockey Frankie Dettori said the filly didn’t feel right from the start: “I was never in a comfort zone.” Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, observing that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, called the beat “a French defeat,” and said, “Maybe we’ll find something wrong. We have lost the battle, not the war.”

7/11/14 Update: She broke a record, finished sixth next time out, and now The Fugue has been retired due to injury. “I’ll never forget her,” says Buick.

The Calendar

Bob Ehalt on tinkering with the Triple Crown schedule:

Moving the Belmont Stakes to July will not help NYRA. If anything it will turn June into a dead spot on the NYRA calendar and force it to conduct its biggest race of the year during a period of time most people in the New York-area associate with beaches and vacations.

Yes. Also — and this is something I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere — how would running the Belmont Stakes and its traditional undercard races on the first weekend in July affect Saratoga stakes, especially the Travers? Move the Belmont, and the glamour division loses its annual 11-week freshening.

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I’m going to keep this short, because otherwise I’ll get all gushy and emotional — today marks the 10th anniversary of Railbird. I couldn’t have imagined the adventures and friendships that would emerge from that first impulse a decade ago to start blogging about horse racing, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who’s visited or followed this site since, or to everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or working with because of it. Thank you.

Dans La Famille

Ryan Goldberg profiles the remarkable Criquette Head-Maarek:

… as far back as the age of 5, Head-Maarek said, she told her father she wanted to be a trainer. “One day he said to me, ‘You marry a trainer, but you won’t be a trainer because there are no women trainers,”’ she recalled.

But in 1978, after four years as her father’s assistant, Head-Maarek was granted a training license by the French racing authorities, the first for a woman. Her father gave her 35 of his own horses, and success quickly followed. Owners such as Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the late emir of Dubai, sent her horses. She remains the only woman to train an Arc winner.

(This part of her story reminds me a bit of trainer Linda Rice:

A proud “my father’s daughter,” she’s the youngest of trainer Clyde Rice’s four children and the only girl. She began helping at her dad’s stable in grammar school. She walked horses, then exercised them. At 17, as they drove back from a Keeneland horse sale, a major accident blocked their route for hours.

That’s when Rice revealed her career path. She turned to her dad and confessed, “I want to be a trainer, just like you.”

Clyde Rice measured his response before speaking it. He told her, “That career would be a lot easier if you were one of my sons.”

Rice won the Easy Goer Stakes with Kid Cruz, eighth in the Preakness Stakes and a former $50K claimer, on Belmont Stakes day.)

More Head-Maarek in the Guardian: “We’ll take my Rolls-Royce …

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