Day At The Track

Issue of the Week with Josh Potts

12:37 PM 08 Nov 2007 NZDT
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Issue Of The Week with Josh Potts

Nothing a little prozac can't cure....So, I called my shrink the other day. It went a little something like this… JP: Hello, is the doc in? Doc: Speaking. Josh, is this you again? JP: You betcha. How’d you guess? Doc: What’s wrong now?

JP: Well, Doc, for starters, the outlook for VLTs (video lottery terminals) being placed at New Jersey racetracks continues to look bleak. Then, the owner of Vernon Downs and the attorney for the Harness Horseman’s Association of Central New York have been engaged in a battle over the cancellation of the last four dates of live racing there. And then, as if that weren’t enough, Equinox Bi was reported stolen in Italy. This is no time for me to be running low on Prozac, Doc. Any way we can up the dosage?

Doc: Now, Josh, we’ve discussed this before. Medication is only a portion of your treatment. Relying on it to solve your problems by itself can only lead to greater problems.

JP: I tell ya what, Doc. I got an idea. Instead of prescribing it to me in pill form, is there anywhere I can get a giant Prozac that I can just gnaw on all day? Like a big huge pill? Like the size of a piano?

Doc: I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Why don’t we begin with you telling me what’s bothering you.

JP: Well, we have this harness racing track, you see. It’s called The Meadowlands and it is home to simply the best harness racing in America. It’s fantastic. The best horses race there. The best drivers. The best trainers. The place is Disney for us harness fans.

Doc: I’ve heard of it.

JP: Of course you have. Well, in the state of New Jersey, the tracks there do not have slots or VLTs like they do at the tracks in the states that surround it. A study was done to see what impact the installation of VLTs at the New Jersey tracks would have. And last week, the Asbury Park Press reported that while having VLTs at the tracks would increase purses, they would also hurt casino profits as well as lottery sales.

Doc: Hmm. And this bothers you?

JP: Of course it does, Doc! The Meadowlands is the Dom Perignon of American harness racing. The Lamborghini. The Ritz-Carlton. You know … the good stuff. I mean, there are other great tracks out there, no question about it. But The Big M is special. It’s a yacht among tugboats.

Doc: Is it a Kate Spade among plastic shopping bags?

JP: Dude. Seriously, don’t ever compare the Big M to a purse ever again. Like, I’m not even kidding with you. Do not test me on this.

Doc: But you got what I meant.

JP: I’ve got enough problems, Doc! I pay you to help me with my problems, not give me more of them!

Doc: My apologies.

JP: OK, where was I?

Doc: On a yacht.

JP: Right. So anyway, how is it going to look if the Big M can’t compete with the tracks in the states immediately surrounding them, because they don’t have VLTs or slots, but the others do?

Doc: Not good.

JP: Not good at all, Doc. The article reported that the profits of Atlantic City casinos would be cut by 2% if they installed VLTs at the tracks. But at the same time, they would no longer need to pay the subsidies to the horse racing industry.

Doc: Hopefully, something will work out.

JP: We’ll see. And don’t get me wrong, Doc. No one is trying to take jobs away from the casino employees in Atlantic City. But there are a lot of jobs connected to horse racing also. Drivers, trainers, breeders, grooms, farriers, veterinarians, feed producers, and so on and so on. They’re people too, you know. And they contribute quite a bit to a state’s economy.

Doc: I see your point on New Jersey. So, what else is bothering you?

JP: Well, this whole ordeal about Vernon Downs cancelling their final four dates of the meet was just bizarre. First, Jeff Gural, the owner of Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs, stated that Vernon would not race the last four dates of their meet, due to a lack of legislative relief and financial hardship the track is experiencing.

Doc: I see.

JP: Well, after that, word got out that they might go ahead and race on those dates. Then, Gural said that they would not race on those dates after all. This caused Joe Faraldo, the attorney for the Harness Horseman’s Association of Central New York, to issue a statement criticizing Gural for, in his opinion, limiting the racing opportunities of horsemen there. Are you following me?

Doc: Uh. I think.

JP: So then, Gural issued a statement apologizing for the mix up. The last line of his published statement is my favorite. It reads, “losing $1,000,000 per month is no fun either and believe me, owning Vernon Downs is absolutely no fun.”

(I pause as I hear a noise.)

JP: Doc, what’s that noise?

Doc: Oh that? It’s nothing. I’m just fixing myself a martini. You’re driving me to drink.

JP: Doc, it’s 9:30 AM.

Doc: Why do people always feel the need to point out the time when I’m having a drink? I know how to tell time!

JP: Of course you do. So anyway, these two are all wound up. They’re not racing at Vernon. And that’s that.

Doc: What a mess.

JP: Then, to top it all off, it was reported that Equinox Bi, the winner of this year’s Breeders Crown Open Trot and Maple Leaf Trot, was stolen from a farm in Italy. He was going to stand at Blue Chip Farm next year. But they can’t stand him unless they find him.

Doc: Oh good grief. They stole a horse? What kind of sick weirdoes are out there?

JP: You should know better than me, Doc.

Doc: Good point. Well, you harness racing fans have sure had a rough go of it lately.

JP: Yeah, well, it’s still the most exciting game there is, Doc.

Doc: Really?

JP: Oh yeah. I mean, just last Saturday, my wife and I went to the off-track betting (OTB) parlor to catch the American-Nationals at Balmoral Park. Man, that was some good racing. Fast horses, the best drivers, fantastic stretch drives. The best going up against the best. And it was awesome.

Doc: Sounds like fun.

JP: Definitely. And when my wife learned that she didn’t actually have to study the past performances in order to have fun betting, she was much happier.

Doc: What do you mean?

JP: Well, she hates looking at all of the lines in the program, with the small letters and numbers that look like hieroglyphics to her. Because Balmoral and a bunch of other tracks offer 10-cent superfectas, she was able to bet ten different randomly generated superfecta combinations in each race for a dollar. She said it was like playing the lottery.

Doc: Did you play those?

JP: Uh no, Doc. I lose the old-fashioned way. I study the program, pick the incorrect horses to come in the incorrect order, and then lose my money that way. I will not put my fate in the hands of some computer.

Doc: Yes, that makes much more sense.

JP: Of course it does.

Doc: Well, your time’s about up.

JP: But I’m not even at your office. And that wasn’t anywhere close to an hour.

Doc: I’m very busy.

JP: Man, you’re tough.

Doc: Should I write you that script?

JP: No, Doc. Just talking it out with someone has made me feel better. You’re right about the pills. Sure, they genuinely work for those who need them. But perhaps I am able to continue without them. I’m not giving up booze though.

Doc: Me neither. In fact, I’m going to fix a second martini.

JP: Atta boy.

Doc: Josh, the problems that harness racing faces may sometimes seem too numerous to overcome. But there are good people in that industry, and many of them are trying to do the best they can, each and every day, to overcome them. The power of creative problem solving, careful planning, and innovation will eventually win the day. Harness racing will have its day in the sun. But there is one thing that is certain.

JP: What’s that, Doc?

Doc: That day will never come if the people that care about it give up. It’s an exciting sport with great people and beautiful, graceful animals. Better days are ahead.

JP: Thanks, Doc. I feel much better now.

Doc: For what I charge, you should.

(Note to readers: The above conversation did not actually happen. It happened only in Josh’s mind. So, to him, it sort of happened … you know, like, mentally and stuff. But to you, it most definitely did not happen at all … in reality, that is. We just thought we’d clarify. Thank you.)

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