Though it's been nearly two months since we visited Mountaineer, I still try to follow the news of my old flame. A few recent tidbits caught my eye:
New management coming soon
MTR Gaming Group, owners of Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort and Presque Isle Downs and Casino has selected the successor to current CEO Ted Arneult: Robert Griffin, current senior VP with Isle of Capri Casinos. While it's possible that Griffin, slated to take over in January, will bring improvements that can be appreciated by a racegoer, it seems unlikely, given his background with a number of casinos in Atlantic City and the decreases in Mountaineer's slots play:
The analyst [Nicholas Danna] cited The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane in Washington County. When it opened a year ago with more than 1,800 slots, Mountaineer's slots revenue fell 20 percent, he said. The Meadows plans to have 3,800 by next April. Plus, the Majestic Star Casino is now scheduled to open on the North Shore in August, offering 3,000 slots. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)I'm hoping Mr. Griffin notices that these two competitors for Pittsburgh's gambling dollars do not offer Thoroughbred racing.
Grants for WV racetracks
West Virginia recently dispursed $2.3 million dollars in grants for tourism. Forty percent of the money is going to the state's three racetracks. Though Charlestown got the biggest slice of the track pie, Mountaineer didn't do too badly in receiving $233,000. I'm hoping the folks spending the money take a peek at the report from the NTRA Online Marketing Task Force (pdf). I've noted numerous times in the past that the Mountaineer website is ... um, what's the word? ... annoying, to say the least, and of little use in attracting or keeping racing fans.
Toast to Exceller Day
This Saturday, a number of tracks are planning to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Exceller's remarkable win over two Kentucky Derby winners in the 1978 Jockey's Club Gold Cup by serving The Exceller, a rather toothsome-sounding cocktail concoction; proceeds from the sales of the drink will go to The Exceller Fund or a local adoption/retirement organization. Participating tracks will also promote the Exceller Fund's adoption/retirement efforts in the track program and it's expected the tracks will air a video replay of the historic race.
Thoroughbred Times published a list of participating tracks, and it's a shocker: Mountaineer and sister Presque Isle Downs are two of the five tracks listed! Other participants include Finger Lakes (not surprising), Thistledown and Laurel Park. Sorely missing from this list: Belmont, site of Exceller's historic victory listed.
Maybe Mountaineer's participation is simply an effort to polish up its image after it was so severely tarnished when HBO followed a Mountaineer runner "from stable to table," or maybe I'm just another one of those gals who don't know how to end a relationship, but for whatever reason, I'm thinking maybe I should give Mountaineer another try.
While I mull over the pros and cons of visiting the ex, I must admit that the siren call of The Exceller just might be what tips the scales. Gary Contessa, the new president of the Exceller Fund, shared the ingredients list over at the Exceller Fund website, perhaps knowing that some girls are just suckers for symbolism:
The ingredients in The Exceller:Already, I'm viewing cranberry juice in a whole new light.
Apple juice - This represents the "Big Apple" - New York - where Exceller defeated the mighty Seattle Slew and Affirmed under a masterful ride by legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker after being carefully conditioned by the impeccable Charlie Whittingham. The precision teamwork of these three is something that seems to be disappearing from racing today.
Vodka - This represents the European campaign of Exceller under trainers Francois Mathet and later by Maurice Zilber. Exceller won the Prix du Lys, Prix Royal Oak, Grand Prix de Paris, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Coronation Cup.
Triple Sec - This represents the Triple Crown which is a rare achievement in racing. Only 11 horses have ever managed to win the three races, and it has been 30 years since the last crown was won. Never before in racing history had a horse defeated two Triple Crown winners in a single race, and it seems unlikely that accomplishment will ever be duplicated.
Lime Juice - This represents our sorrow that all three team members - Exceller, Bill Shoemaker, and Charlie Whittingham - are no longer with us.
Cranberry Juice - This represents the fighting spirit of all Thoroughbred champions. There are few sights more thrilling than the sight of a champion reaching beyond his potential to win the big race in the last final strides. There is a transcendent quality about a Thoroughbred that touches all of us and can take us on a journey that we will never forget.