Aug 27, 2009

Saratoga Raceway and Zombies

So, I admit that I completely forgot the camera the night we went to see the harness racing. Honestly we weren't even planning on going that evening. It just turns out we had just the right amount of alcohol and good food to decide that we could stay out all night. Over to the Saratoga Raceway it was.

Firstly, I want to note that Saratoga doesn't seem to do the best job of advertising the harness racing. Maybe it's different when the flat racing isn't in season, but no one appears that informed about the raceway. Questions about it seem to result in a faraway, glassy-eyed look. That in combination with a very noncommittal "oh, yeah" had me prepared for the worst. At least I did know that it was a raceway / casino. That's pretty obvious from just going to their website. If you didn't know better, it might even seem like the place is all slots machines and nightclub. You'd be hard-pressed to find any relevant data on the actual harness racing, which is quite sad really. The harness racing should be placed front and center. I don't care that it's not a money-making proposition anymore or that it doesn't draw the crowds; to be perfectly blunt, those horses and drivers are the only reason that racino was built. They are the ones out there every evening, offering a formidable display of skill and bravery that should be promoted, not willed into obscurity. I think the least we can do is offer them a prominent showcase and a semblance of respect. Can we not in this day and age come up with a marketing plan that purports to make harness racing cool again? Where is the harness racing equivalent of the Seabiscuit book? Greyhound anyone? Niatross? Bret Hanover? Dan Patch -- there was a great book written recently about him. Let's parlay that into some coolness factor for the harness racing world.

But I digress. As usual. Anyway, the Saratoga Raceway was a pleasant surprise. In fact, I am reluctant to admit I might even like it a bit better than the main track. But only because the crowds are smaller, the track is smaller and you get a great view of the entire track no matter where you are positioned, and, because the horses circle the track twice during the course of the race, you feel more involved with the outcome. Again, this is just my opinion, but the action does manage to really captivate you in a manner that I've only really felt in flat racing during the final stretch run. Of course, you can't really compare the two. They are two different animals and the skill of the harness racers seems to come into play even more than during flat racing. People can argue this point, of course, but it seems that strategy plays a much larger role in harness racing. It's not so easy as you might think to break out of the jumbled, flying mess of wheels and limbs without some real forethought. And I'm not saying that flatracing doesn't take skill and strategy. I'm just saying that it seems to be a lot more difficult for a longshot to take control of a harness race, and that there is no room for error at all. Sometimes there's a little more breathing room in a flat race to be able to make a bit of an error, correct it and still win. Maybe I'm wrong, but harness racing appears to be a bit less forgiving.

While the harness racing itself was a lovely excursion that I will be sure to be repeating, the casino aspect of the facility was kind of like being an extra on a 'z'-level horror movie. Scores of people sitting transfixed in front of vibrant computer screens, pressing buttons and winning a couple of dollars here and there. If you think "Shaun of the Dead" was an absurdist satire on the zombifying of our society, then you need look no farther than the slots machines at the casino to see it come to life. I fully admit I don't go to casinos, nor am I much of a gambler, but I can readily understand the appeal of a poker game or betting on horses. The dead eyes and stupor of a person mesmerized by the screen in front of them is downright creepy to me. I suppose it just comes down to my irritation at these people completely oblivious to the action happening all around them (I'm speaking of the horses obviously), lost in their computer screens. Why come to a harness track at all? It seems more leisurely to stay at home and attain the same dazed state in front of the television or your gaming console.

But what do I know? I can't understand not being mesmerized by the fleet horses racing not 300 feet away from the slot machines.

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