JC / Railbird

New York Times


Almost 10 months after NYC OTB closed its doors for good, the New York Times visits the defunct betting parlors, finding most remain empty and unmourned by neighbors. (“Thank God they’re gone,” says one.) There’s a slideshow, unlikely to induce nostalgia (even in me, quoted as an occasional former patron, pro-OTB community), except possibly for retro signage.

The Invisible Industry

Several weeks ago, in a post called “The Invisible Sport,” Jennifer Wirth of the Saturday Post inspired a campaign to increase mainstream media coverage of horse racing. A worthy goal, but as the reaction to Joe Drape’s New York Times story on the the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shows, it’s the whole industry that’s largely invisible, not just the sport.

Outside of Kentucky and New York, there aren’t many non-trade publications covering the larger stories of racing business and politics, and outside of the New York Times, almost none doing investigative work.

Vic Zast runs down the reasons for the lack of horse racing coverage in his HRI column today. All are familiar (fewer reporters, reduced resources, turf writers “captured” by sources), but that doesn’t make the problem any less an issue.

Wirth argues that racing won’t last if people aren’t exposed to the game and its stars through news stories; it also won’t last without press oversight, exposing serious issues and compelling change. Whatever the debatable flaws in Drape’s work, his reporting is necessary, and racing needs more of it.

3:15 PM Addendum: Writing on the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reacts to the TRF story. “No matter who is at fault, no matter what happens to the TRF from here, please, someone, take care of those poor damned horses.” It seems like there should be a mechanism, some simple way to gather small sums for retirement funds — something like the Jockey Club check-off program, made mandatory. An an opt-in program, it isn’t attracting much support.


Forgive the self-promotion; it’s not every day I can say that you can find me twice on the New York Times web site …

On the City Room blog, I reply to comments left regarding Sunday’s OTB story. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the exchange, except for one mistake on my part — I realized this morning that commenter El Barto was referring to the amount retained by OTB, not the surcharge on winning bets. Oops! It’s still a fine reply, just to another question.

On the Rail, I write about history and preps, how the races have changed, how tradition may still matter. After I’d already sent this piece off, I read Jay Hovdey’s post on Derby defections, in which he refers to Eskendereya’s “porcelain handling.” I suppose there’s some truth to that, but consider: Last year’s field averaged 6.4 lifetime starts, down a bit from the 7.05 of the 2004 field (the first of the 20-horse Derby era). A light record is just the way of things these days — this year’s likely field averages 6.5 starts — making the 3YO prep season all the more important.

Friday Notes

It’s back: I’ve updated the Kentucky Derby historical criteria spreadsheet with this year’s top 25 likely starters, by graded stakes earnings. Post positions and columns 1 and A-C will be updated after the field is drawn. Re: column 15, “key Derby preps” refers to the dozen races that have proven historically to be most significant for serious Kentucky Derby contenders. More on this factor (and how it’s changed, even in the last five years) next week.

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting two Manhattan OTBs with New York Times reporter Ariel Kaminer for a City Critic piece that will appear on Sunday. It’s her story, so I’ll refrain from saying anything about the day for now, but would like to thank @PreemieD for recommending the W. 72nd Street branch, which was “fancy” and modern, with marble floors and flat screen TVs, and mention that the Times is doing a Q&A on their City Room blog about “OTB, horse racing, betting — from off track or on — and anything else related to the sport of kings.” They’re taking questions and comments through the weekend, answers and replies to follow on Monday.

“Prado is hot,” I overheard a bettor say before the first race at Aqueduct on Wednesday. He knew what he was taking about: Edgar Prado won two that day (one after falling from his mount, who stumbled badly out of the gate, in the sixth) and then five on Thursday. The jockey took the third, the fifth, and swept the final three races on the card; the Prado Pick 3 paid $883.