Saratoga Diary: The Difference Between Dead and Dying

Saratoga Diary: The Difference Between Dead and Dying
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Charlie Hayward, the racetrack's president, credits Bill Nader, his newly-promoted chief operating officer, with coming up with the "Grand Slam." Nader pushed for the innovative bet hoping that it would give horseplayers a tantalizing way to wager on several races.

"We're going to be promoting the Grand Slam during the meet," Hayward said at a Saratoga Preview panel discussion held at the National Museum of Racing two days before the racing season started.

Now, he might be wondering if that's such a good idea.

On Thursday, the Grand Slam wager paid $13.40 and, on Wednesday, it paid $16.60. That doesn't seem like a "value play," which is what Hayward called it. Only $35,688 was bet into the Grand Slam pool on Thursday, a mere pittance of what NYRA handles on a daily card.

To win, a bettor must pick a horse to finish in the money in each of three races prior to the feature, then pick the winner of the feature. In other words, he must load the bet by getting three horses on base, then hitting them home with one winner.

Thursday's Grand Slam hitter was Gold and Roses, trained by Tom Bush and ridden by the hot jockey Garrett Gomez. Gold and Roses won the John Morrissey Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs for New York-bred sprinters and paid $5.80 to win.

Nevertheless, earlier on the card – in the first race to be specific, a real slugger went to the plate and hit it out of the ballpark. The 2004 Eclipse Award winner Hirapour took the A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Stakes (NSA-II) by four lengths.

Hirapour prepped for this win in one of the two non-betting exhibition races at the "Open House" which NYRA conducted on the Sunday before the race meet officially began. The 10-year-old Irish-bred gelding looked awesome winning that one, and came back to win again impressively Thursday. This time his owners pocketed the bulk of the $75,000 purse and the fans who bet on him doubled their money.

Morrissey, the namesake of one of Thursday's co-features, went to his grave in 1878 remembered as the scoundrel who brought gambling to Saratoga. Smithwick died in 1973, the victim of cancer at the age of 43, having ridden 398 winners over fences.

The Grand Slam isn't dead yet, but it's dying. Who knows if it'll be eulogized when it's gone?

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