The crew of the TDN Writers' Room presented by Keeneland celebrated a major milestone Tuesday, recording the 100th episode of the ever-growing podcast, and did so with a star-studded show shot from the New York Racing Association's television stand overlooking the majestic paddock at Saratoga. Welcoming as guests NYRA CEO David O'Rourke, America's Day at the Races analyst and Saratoga veteran Andy Serling and Eclipse champion jockey Jose Ortiz, the writers got insight on the future of New York racing both upstate and downstate, the significance of fans returning to Saratoga, what it takes to win a Spa meet rider's title and much more.
First up on the set as the Green Group Guest of the Week was O'Rourke, who touched on a variety of industry issues, including the moral imperative to institute major drug reform, the way forward on partnering with sports betting outfits and whether closing Aqueduct and/or downsizing Belmont figures into NYRA's long-term plans.
“Five, ten years out, if there's one facility [downstate] it will be Belmont Park,” O'Rourke said. “That's really our hub. That's what we're going to attack this winter in terms of planning. What are our options? There are three. You can knock [Belmont] down and build a smaller building, you can redo it, or, one of the things we did this year was build the Triple Crown room on the second floor. That was, in a sense, an experiment. What would it start to look like if we took sections of this building, and build out rooms that we need for big dates like Belmont Stakes Day, or potential Breeders' Cups? So those answers will start to flow out. What you're looking at is a smaller conditioned footprint at Belmont for 10 months a year, and the ability to expand out for something like the Belmont Stakes or Breeders' Cup.”
Next up was Serling, who has been coming to Saratoga for decades and has recently become a key cog in NYRA and FOX Sports' successful daily broadcast from Saratoga and Belmont. Known to many as an outspoken, opinionated personality, Serling was asked whether or not he gets blowback, personally or professionally, for his style of speaking candidly on air.
“I never get that from NYRA,” he said. “[NYRA Bets President and TV Executive Producer] Tony Allevato and Dave O'Rourke have my back actually. If I said something out of line, Tony might say, 'You might want to tone that down,' but he would be right if he said it. I don't understand this whole notion that I'm this incredibly outspoken person, because I've been betting horses my whole life. Horseplayers are argumentative, that's what we do. Isn't that what we like about racing? That we have differing opinions? We throw them around, we say, 'You're an idiot,' 'I'm an idiot', then they run the race and we're probably both wrong, and you move on and try to learn from it. What do people want? Do they want people who say, 'I like the 4-5 favorite, I don't dislike anybody, they're all beautiful.' I thought that's what people want to do about racing is, argue about it. So I'm not going to change what I do. It seems to be working. I mean, at least they're listening. Love, hate, they're all listening.”
Last but not least on the set was Jose Ortiz, 2017's Eclipse Champion Jockey, currently enjoying a successful meet, sitting second as of this writing in the Saratoga jockey standings. He was asked about how the Puerto Rican jockey school and older Puerto Rican trailblazers have helped him and other young riders successfully transition to America.
“It's huge,” Ortiz said of the Escuela Vocacional Hipica. “Angel [Cordero] and Johnny [Velazquez] set the path for us, and hopefully we're setting the path for the ones coming behind us. And it's good for the school because it works on government funds. So if the government keeps seeing the results like they see now, they're going to keep helping the school, and we need that. We work hard, because I have in the back of my head that everything I do is going to be reflected on the school back home and the kids that look up to us now. You've got to keep that in mind at all times.”
Elsewhere on the milestone Writers' Room, which is also sponsored by West Point Thoroughbreds, Spendthrift Farm, Legacy Bloodstock and the 2021 Minnesota Thoroughbred Assoication Yearling Sale, the crew celebrated being back together along with fans at Saratoga, reacted to a huge weekend of turf racing and the unceremonious goodbye some got from Arlington Park, and discussed the suspension of leading trainer Wayne Potts at Monmouth. Click here to watch the podcast; click here for the audio-only version or find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
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