April 23, 2013
Full-time simulcasting at Oaklawn started in 1995. I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the presentation through Oaklawn’s DJ Booth and am still the lucky guy to be there, 17 years later. I’ve seen lots of transition in what is done in Simulcast at Oaklawn. We had lots of different styles of tournaments and other fun games which brought about a Daily Racing Form story about Oaklawn’s simulcast presentation as “Simulcast Heaven”. I was proud to be part of it then and am equally proud to be part of it now.
Things have changed, but what hasn’t has been watching the horses which raced at Oaklawn move on to other major tracks and succeed. The same is true with our jockeys and trainers. So, it was that on Sunday I had my first “Oaklawn” moment of the simulcast season.
The site of the “Oaklawn” moment was Keeneland and the race was the second on the card, a $40,000 maiden claiming event at six furlongs on Keeneland’s synthetic track. There were a few Oaklawn-raced horses in the event, headed by Tattaglia from the barn of leading Oaklawn trainer Steve Asmussen and as far as I know it was the first horse at Keeneland to be ridden by the youngster who had his coming out party as Oaklawn’s leading rider, Ricardo Santana Jr. Opposing Tattaglia was Best Five, from the popular Kentucky barn of trainer Mike Maker, and S C Redslegacy, one who always looked like he was sitting on a win, but never quite got there when racing for trainer Chris Hartman at Oaklawn. He was running for a new owner and trainer on Sunday, but still looked the part of the 21-1 longshot he was projected by the crowd.
Tattaglia and S C Redslegacy both drew towards the outside, but that seemed to make little difference over Keeneland’s all-weather track. Tattaglia and Santana established a good stalking position early, while S C Redslegacy made a huge move outside of the field on the turn, so that it was clear the stretch drive would pit the two Oaklawn-raced runners to fight it out.
In midstretch, it looked like that evasive win was finally going to be achieved by S C Redslegacy, but Tattaglia and Santana were not yet finished. They dug in to be side-by-side through the final furlong, with Tattaglia coming up in front by a short head at the wire. S C Redslegacy had hung in the final strides, forced to head back to his stall again as a runner-up, the fourth time in his last five starts. He won’t be a huge price the next time he runs, but he will receive plenty of backing when he starts, presumably over the dirt track at Churchill Downs.
It was so nice to see jockey Santana make the impression he needed to in his first trip around the Keeneland oval. He should still be a major factor in the Churchill spring meet, which starts this Saturday evening. Churchill will start the season with one of its evening “themed” events, started two years ago to attract a younger crowd. For the most part those events have achieved their end, although the jury is still out on whether they are cost effective. Most importantly for those of us at Oaklawn, they give us a reason to stay around during the evening on Saturday and create some sort of crowd for the later races on that day.
One thing that has happened to Oaklawn simulcast is the natural loss of some passionate horseplayers, who passed away during the past 17 years. Creating some new simulcast fans has been the challenged laid down to not only Oaklawn, but all across the country in keeping fans enthused to be at the track for simulcasting. Many of the wagering formats which are available on the Internet have robbed the track of players who find it more comfortable and less expensive to play horses from the comfort of home.
It’s our job at Oaklawn to make it fun enough to come to simulcast. Furthermore, there is a certain social quality to a day at Oaklawn, that you run into many of the people you know, if you are present at the track. This summer Oaklawn will attempt to utilize the facility to promote events which tie in with the simulcast presentation. The first of those is “Smokelawn”, a fun barbeque party, scheduled on the infield and including local blues bands, a kids zone with a petting zoo, a Budweiser beer garden, a motor cycle show and the Run for the Roses. In addition the track’s Relay For Life teams will again offer their silent and live auctions of mostly memorabilia items for the benefit of American Cancer Society. Those auctions have been part of the Kentucky Derby Day festivities for numerous years and given many fans the chance to add fun items to their collections. There are always lots of food items being offered and the whole day turns into great fun.
Back in 2004, when Oaklawn was celebrating its 100th birthday, Smarty Jones was racing at Churchill Downs and a popular winner of the Kentucky Derby. It was a day never to be forgotten by fans at the track. On that day the fans in the Oaklawn simulcast won over $1 million on the Kentucky Derby, thought by most veteran observers to be the biggest score ever for a simulcast center on a single race. As happy as the crowd was that day, so sad was the gathering of over 12,000 which were on hand for the Belmont Stakes five weeks later. Sports fans from coast to coast were disappointed with Birdstone’s stretch run pushing him past Smarty on that day and taking a great chance for the Triple Crown with him. In a short time those of us at Oaklawn simulcast had gone from the highest high to the lowest low.
But we’re ready for a change. There are quite a few Oaklawn-raced runners eligible through the new points system to enter into this year’s Kentucky Derby. We can expect the largest crowd until Breeders’ Cup, in the Fall, to be on hand for the Run for the Roses. All of that is on the assumption that there is no chance for the elusive Triple Crown winner on Belmont Day, especially if the horse making the run for the Crown happens to come from the roster of those which raced at Oaklawn.
Oaklawn will continue to make a promotional shot to enhance the simulcast audience, following Kentucky Derby Day. On the day after the Derby there will be a Cinco de Mayo celebration, featuring Mariachi Music, special prices on beer and margaritas and a $5,000 cash drawing.
Add to that on Thursdays the gaming center will offer the $100,000 Crows of Camelot, with two lucky players selected to be in the drawing for a $100,000 prize and All you can Eat Spaghetti Wednesday nights in the gaming center for $1.99. To qualify for the reduced price, one needs only to have earned 10 points on the Winner’s Circle players card on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Oaklawn’s popular summertime concert series begins on June 6 with Sawyer Brown being featured. On July 3 the local fireworks offering, Spa Blast, will include a concert by Lee Greenwood of “Proud to be an American” fame. August, September and October will include concerts including Peter Noone, The Buckinghams and the Grass Roots, along with evenings with Dionne Warwick and Three Dog Night.
This summer simulcast will be like none other. The creative minds are at work to make it all more fun for everyone. But, if the races, are as much fun as that second at Keeneland this past weekend and if Ricardo Santana Jr. can continue to be the dominant riding force in middle America and if an Oaklawn-race three-year-old goes to the head of the class and if Oaklawn-raced horses continue to return winning an nice-priced efforts to their fans, well then this will be a simulcast year which be remembered with the finest of them. It’s a tall order, but we’ve seen the impact of Oaklawn on racing in America, especially over the past decade. Nothing is impossible and I hope we’re talking about Oaklawn simulcast as “Heaven” again by the end of the year.