SARATOGA SPRINGS, N. Y. -- There is a lot going on for the racing fan and bettor this weekend. California Chrome, Horse of the Year in 2014, makes his first U.S. start since his powerful victory in the Dubai World Cup last March in Saturday's San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. This is also the first weekend of racing of the year at Saratoga, the biggest annual race meet in North America, and where the brilliant and undefeated Songbird, the leader of a terrific crop of 3-year-old fillies, makes her first East coast start in Sunday's Coaching Club American Oaks.
And that's just for starters.
Yes, there is a lot of big racing stuff going on this weekend. But no matter how busy the game might make you over the next few days, it would be only right if you carved out a moment at some point and said a quiet "thank you" in appreciation for Steve Crist.
Here's why: Crist, who retired Wednesday as an executive and columnist for Daily Racing Form, did much during a 35-year career in racing to improve various aspects of the game. But where Crist really left an indelible mark was in matters concerning the horseplayer, enriching our experiences in ways you might not be aware of, or have imagined. And this holds true no matter which way you engage in racing this weekend, whether it be at the track, or at a simulcast facility, or betting in your underwear from your living room.
Consider the DRF past performances you use to handicap. Significant aspects of the pps everyone is now so familiar with were fashioned by a small group of people led by Crist in an office on Hudson St. in Manhattan in early 1991, weeks before these remade past performances were to debut in The Racing Times, for which Crist was founding editor-in-chief.
The Beyer Speed Figures, which have become such an indispensible handicapping tool, were first made available to the public in the past performances in Crist's Racing Times.
You know that career box in the upper right hand corner of the past performance cut, the little area that packs a wealth of extremely useful information? The foundation of the career box was born under Crist's supervision at The Racing Times.
We now almost take for granted the italicized horse name in the past performance company line denoting a next out winner, which might suggest a given race was unusually productive. That innovation came after Crist took over stewardship of Daily Racing Form in 1998.
Are you a user of Formulator, DRF's criminally underappreciated and incredibly rich past performance program? Formulator came to life (under a different name) way back in 1992 under the nurturing of Crist, the late Dave Ward, and one other character currently typing this, and was introduced for public consumption after Crist's group took control of DRF.
Do you like to buy your DRF past performances, Formulator or the classic version, online? Do you recognize the tremendous convenience that option offers? Steve Crist also made that happen for you.
How about that simulcast signal you watch? Nothing resembling it existed until Crist, in his stint as Vice President of the New York Racing Association in the mid 1990s, introduced full card simulcasting, in-home race feed, and all day, race-to-race handicapping analysis. Really. It's hard to remember because the video presentation of racing that now feels like it has been around forever did not exist B. C. (before Crist). And his template has since been copied by every other racetrack on the continent.
Steve Crist retired this week, and while those of us lucky enough to know him are happy he's happy, we also know this game we love now has a large void that cannot be replaced. It is astonishing how much better thoroughbred racing is for Steve Crist's contributions, and the fear is it will take a long time for racing to unearth a forward thinker anywhere near his league.
So that is why it is only right to say, "Thank you, Steve. For everything."