A good Monday morning to you all. I hope that you’re enjoying the holiday weekend as we arrive on this Memorial Day. I still remember Memorial Day back in what would have been 1990 or 1991, my Grandpa Chuck told me once “Just take” a minute or two today and think about the sacrifices made by the men and women who died in service. Just really stop and think about it for a minute or two. I think they’d appreciate that. ”That’s always stuck with me and always something I try and do every year on this day.
Memorial Day in recent years seems to have lost a bit of its spot in the racing calendar here in the United States. When the Met Mile (G1) moved from its Memorial Day feature slot to a Belmont Stakes Day undercard event, I’d never heard so much complaining about a race placement changing. People had learned to love that great race being the centerpiece of the spring holiday and without the Met Mile, Memorial Day seemed to become just kind of a regular holiday Monday of racing.
And similar to moving the Met Mile, if a change were to happen, there would be a high degree of complaining. People love tradition and I’m sure there are so many New Yorkers who have amazing memories of going to Belmont Park on Memorial Day and watching great Met Mile performances. I still remember back in 2005 watching the great Ghostzapper win the Met Mile from a bank of TVs at Emerald Downs. So I’m not discounting the nostalgia and memories that come from traditions. But the Met Mile still exists. And it still is a premier Grade 1 race.
For whatever reason, it seems as though Memorial Day racing has a bit of its mojo back this year. Lone Star Park once again will put on their big day of the season with the Steve Sexton Mile (G3) and Texas Derby highlighting their card. Belmont Park will feature a New York-bred stakes card called Big Apple Showcase Day. We have the Winning Colors (G3) here at Churchill Downs and Santa Anita will feature three Grade 1 races. So count me excited for the holiday cards.
Monday will be the fifth day of the race week here in Louisville at Churchill Downs. Not all that long ago the five-day race week was somewhat of a norm. Now it’s very much the exception. I went all the race days from Thursday through Sunday and as a horseplayer and fan, five days is a long week. When I first started announcing at River Downs we ran five days a week and the year prior they had run six days a week. They still run four days a week at Belterra Park (formerly River Downs) but like many tracks, filling races and offering big fields is a struggle. Racing truly needs to work to get back to a growth pattern when it comes to foal crop size and field size. It’s just so tough to keep horseplayers interested with six-horse fields becoming more and more the norm.
Last thing I wanted to mention in this weekend column was the passing of the legendary Lester Piggott who died on Sunday at the age of 86. Piggott will be remembered amongst one of the greatest and most accomplished jockeys of his or any era and to go back I wasn’t alive for most of his career but do remember him coming out of retirement to guide Royal Academy to a win in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Belmont Park . Flying down the outside to get up in the final yards at age 54. Rest in peace, Lester.