Back to balmy Buffalo after a run in the sun last weekend at the Pegasus World Cup.
Some thoughts on the day after having a week to let the enormity of the event soak in….
During the day it was difficult to tell whether the day was an “epic fail” as one of my handicapper pals called it or the “huge success” that a fellow ‘capper standing five feet away retorted. Certainly there would be some backlash from “Joe Fan” who had to swallow a $100 general admission ticket price just to step through a metal detector onto the Gulfstream premises.
Looking at the results, both on the track and off, in my humble conclusion was that it was indeed a success in several capacities. Although I was very skeptical walking in to empty parking lots at 10:30 a.m. (Miami folk are obviously late arrivers), after exiting our Uber from Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Once inside and situated in the press room, I wandered out through the breezeway (where one of the best bars at any racetrack exists) and out on the apron to watch the first few races in the Florida sunshine. There was a palpable buzz that reverberated around the place. Folks were dressed like it was Derby day, folks were betting with both fists and the weather could not be more perfect at 70 degrees.
After my early Pick-5 went up in flames when Proctor’s Ledge (49-1) sped past Bogulator at the wire in Race 4, I reloaded for the Late Pick-4 and 5 and headed upstairs to check out the Ten Palms Restaurant. A friend and horseman from Buffalo and his wife were sitting at the bar in their “purchased seats” for something north of $500 each. It was still smiles all around, and after I took a look at the buffet filled with lobster tails and tenderloin, I knew why.
So people were having a good time, spending money, betting tons and were dressed to kill. I heard someone say “Miami knows how to come out to a party,” on the way down the stairs overlooking the beautiful oval Gulfstream paddock. Once they showed up, and it was around mid-card where it seemed to start filling up, they were there in numbers.
It wasn’t uncomfortable moving around the track, however, with an announced 16,653 in attendance. it was short of what Stronach Group COO estimated that a typical Florida Derby crowd of 20,000 attends annually during the pre-race press conference with the national racing media. By my Fort Erie crowd estimating experience on Prince of Wales day, that number seemed very reasonable. Most importantly it was a manageable crowd that was into the spectacle of the day.
I watched many of the races at the bar inside Silks with a group from Saratoga and people were able to come up and get a drink fairly easily. The folks at Gulfstream created a comfortable, fun environment where it was easy to get in and out of concessions and the rest rooms with little trouble.
The fact that they were able to generate $40.2 million of handle, including $15.7 on the Pegasus race alone when considering all multi-race wagers ending in the finale, had to be a huge success.
The TV ratings were no different. The overnight ratings were 1.23 for the telecast shown by NBC. It exceeded last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and was the highest rated non-Triple Crown race since the 2015 Classic at Keeneland which featured American Pharoah’s last race.
It was almost surreal minutes before when Arrogate trainer Bob Baffert had his arm around Art Sherman and you could hear a nervous laugh from 20 yards away. I watched from the horse path as the two rivals appeared and warmed up before heading to the paddock. They circled there, just the two of them, like an old fashioned showdown was looming.
Both horses looked magnificent before heading to the paddock to be joined by their respective riders. Arrogate has really filled out and looked majestic in his roan coat and massive body. It was going to be a rematch of the duel of the Classic at Santa Anita.
In this case it was California Chrome’s finale and he certainly didn’t go out the way his handlers had hoped. For a second on the backstretch when Arrogate and Chrome were eyeball to eyeball, it seemed like everyone was going to get what they came for. But unfortunately for the 'Chromies,' he went in the opposite direction of the son of Unbridled’s Song.
Timing issues aside, it was visually impressive to see Arrogate swing down the lane opening up on the field on his way to the $7 million payday. To me, he put the finishing touch on a magnificent day at the South Florida oval.
Cheers to Chrome for a wonderful career which should find him in Saratoga Springs in due time in a certain Hall of Fame. Having him around at the age of six on the racetrack competing on the grand stage is what racing is all about.
Let’s hope Arrogate keeps it going and thrills us a few more times down the road.
As we walked out of the track, we saw a cheery Mike Smith heading to the parking lot after a post-race feast at Christine Lee’s, an upscale restaurant within Gulfstream. A group of fans said “Way to go, Mikey!” to the Hall of Fame jockey, who was smiling from ear-to-ear and said “I really appreciate that fellahs, wasn’t that something?”
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.