Safety is always key

Steve Bortstein Special to The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — I've known my share of unsatisfactory endings.

After all, I was married. Once.

This past weekend, when it was announced that SunRay Park and Casino's 2015 live racing season was being called off as a result of unsafe track conditions, I was reminded again of unsatisfactory endings.

This is the mothership of unsatisfactory endings.

We didn't get the big thoroughbred stakes race to end the meet. We didn't get to formally congratulate the riding and training champions. We didn't get to say one more "You're welcome, America" sign-off in the paddock to our national audience watching our races via simulcast.

But we do get to say one thing.

We - all of us in the sport of horse racing - can take solace in one thing, above all else: We thought about safety first.

As much as we'd have liked to pay tribute, as much as we'd have all liked one more winning wager or at least one more chance at the Super High Five Jackpot, we get to say that we thought about the athletes first.

In this age of professional sports, where issues of safety occasionally get blurred by outside factors, horse racing got it right.

I will admit that I feel cheated. I wanted to do one more paddock show this season. I wanted to do my annual ritual of "thank you's" to fans, horsemen, racing officials, etc., on closing day.

That will have to wait until 2016.

Racing got it right at SunRay Park. Not a single horse had to be vanned off as a result of this incident. Not a single jockey had to cry foul and not a single fan had to see something shocking.

As unsatisfying an end as this was to the 2015 season of racing at SunRay, we can all take comfort that the business of the sport is better today as a result of these actions.


Over breakfast earlier this week, track announcer Eric Alwan and I debated the issue of which horse could claim title of Horse of the Meet.

Yes, it's a silly thing over which to debate. Many of the things we chat about in our spare time are silly.

Alwan's suggestion of Silverhill is a valid one. A three-time winner over the course and recent winner of the SunRay Park and Casino Handicap, the Justin Evans trainee was the recipient of a heads-up ride in that most recent win, and he appears to be headed for a fine campaign this fall.

My suggestion for Horse of the Meet goes to Good Job Honey. Also a three-time winner over the course, she broke her maiden here opening day, won her trial heat as the fastest qualifier for the Four Corners Futurity, then won that race for trainer Ken Grisham.

In the interest of the sport "doing the right thing," we'll give the unofficial title to both horses, though I truly believe Good Job Honey deserves it a bit more.

After all, I paid for breakfast.

**A sincere congratulations to the champions. Justin Evans and Ken Grisham on the trainers side, Jackie and Sylvia Herron from the owners booth, as well as Jose Luis Enriquez and Alfredo Juarez Jr., from the jockeys room. All represented the sport remarkably well this season, and they all had a tremendous role in what has been a strong season of racing.

**According to most recent accounting figures, on track handle this season was up sharply from last year. That's an encouraging sign for the popularity of the sport, especially considering the change in calendar from the running of the 2014 season to this, as well as the added competition from summer vacations, the Connie Mack World Series, etc.

The increase in on-track handle was aided in large part by guaranteed Pick Four pools on Tuesday race cards, as well as the growing popularity of the Pentafecta, also known as the Super High Five Jackpot. The Pentafecta required bettors to correctly pick the first five finishers in the final race of each day's program.

Carryover pools in that wager occasionally led to big payouts and left bettors with a difficult handicapping challenge most days.

**Live racing returns to SunRay next July 1 for another 36-day meet. In the meantime, both the state fair meet at the Downs at Albuquerque and Zia Park will take center stage next week after the conclusion of the All-American Futurity card, which wraps up the Ruidoso Downs season on Labor Day.

Steve Bortstein hosts "First Sports" and "The Fast Track" on Fox Sports 1340 AM and 93.9 FM and on iHeartRadio. He serves as paddock show host at SunRay Park & Casino and is a voting member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Follow him


on Twitter.