A few weeks ago I wrote about the sad state of my favorite sport, Horse Racing. This brings me once again to my friend John Pricci of the Horse Racing Insider. In his blog on Jan. 8th, he asks what the big story was for 2009 as well as other questions as to how the sport can be brought back to life, etc. There is also a survey on HRI that asks some good questions of it's readers. What is the fan looking for? Who is the average race fan and so on. Lastly, he asks what HRI can do for it's readers to help the sport along.
First, I responded as follows to "what was the story of the year", "the Zenyata and Rachael hoped for rivalry" and "What HRI can do for it's readers".
As big as the Racahel/Zentata story is, you can pretty well guess that I feel the Hialeah re-opening is bigger. That is provided as I stated before, the Fla tracks and Commission will do something that quite frankly is unheard of in racing these days. Throw away their egos, co-operate and most of all LEAD! Everytime I think of the “Saratoga of the South” possibly coming back to full life, I get goosebumps!
BTW: As it has been noted Zenyata apparently is in training. That right their could be one of the best things to happen in racing for quite awhile. I think of Kelso, John Henry, Forgeo and others and the crowds that were associated with them. As such, it has always been a fact that people do indeed follow their (for want of better words) horse heroes.
As for what HRI can do for it’s readers? Keep doing what you’re doing! Cliche aside, changes cannot and will not be made if the customer is disengaged from the realities of the situation. Access to information is still the most important thing there is!
One idea though. As you know, there are a few folks from deep within the industry (Vic H. in Virginia comes to mind, as an example) commenting on the various columns on the HRI site. These folks are an invaluable source for information on how this industry works.
Ex: In my past posts as is well known, I try my best to point out how the tote does certain things as is my business. I’m thinking that HRI could help bring some of how this industry actually works to the people, be it the backside (which still is my favorite place in the world), the tote, mutuels, etc. It would really be great if people could get an insight into how a State Racing Commission actually works as an example.
There is so much mis-information out there as to our sport. Something along these line might help clarify what is going on with our sport in general."
I have always believed horse racing is one of the most beautiful of all sports. The grace and glory of a thoroughbred in full stride is indeed an awe inspiring sight. And so much of horse racing is in fact about tradition! Many feel the young folks don't believe in that, but I disagree vehemently! At Saratoga, Derby Day, Oaklawn, the kids show up in droves, many of them dressed to the nines and in the case of the women, all wearing the fancy hats that have always graced racetracks. Hialeah fits that tradition, thus my statement on the top story.
The Rachael/Zenyata thing? It has always been such that people follow special horses in general which in turn creates more fans. WE DO NOT RUN OUR SPECIAL HORSES LONG ENOUGH! Go back to Seabiscuit or John Henry. Think of Kelso who was winning graded stakes at 9 years old or what about Forego! And can anyone forget about Cigar! These horses became household names and their appearances at a track was an event! The sport needs it's heroes. People want the superstars and they will come!
Now I of all people understand the breeding and business part of this equation. To much money involved! Owners worried the horse will break down before the big bucks from breeding rights come in. My slant on that? The industry has somehow over the years taken the breeding to the point that we are turning out infirm horses from the get go! Something just isn't right. Years ago, we ran a horse 25 to 30 times a year! Now, we're lucky if they run once a month. What happened? All I know for sure is that the horses are not near as sturdy as they once were and I firmly believe it is in the breeding.
As to the last question (what can HRI do?). In this day of the information age, it is imperative to get that info to the people in any form we can. Horse Racing has done an absolutely horrible job of publicizing itself. Not only did it run and hide from the realities of the world as other forms of gaming appeared (quickly as I have said before. The industry was to busy crying for help instead of helping itself), but it also in the process turned off two generations of fans to this great sport!
Add to that the mis-conceptions out there as to the tote, the track surface controversy, the inane Racing Commissions (that in the political sense), the hodge podge of different rules and regs and you get the disaster that is what our sport has become.
Therefore, getting information out there is the most important thing we can do. Somehow, the magic of horse racing, how it works, the human element behind the scenes, etc. have never really been understood by the fan. Educate the fan, they will come back to the races!
One last thing here in thinking about the top stories. Bill Christine of HRI put out what he felt were his top ten stories of the last decade. There was also a writer on the Bloodhorse (his name escapes me, my apologies) who put out what he felt were the top ten training feats, horses, etc. of the decade. One of Mr. Christines top stories was the Pick Six Scandal in the Breeder's Cup at Arlington. Here is what Mr. Christine said.
"5. The pick six fix. Volponi's $89 win in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park led investigators to three former fraternity brothers at Drexel University, who were able to buy tickets on the pick six after the first four legs had been run. A freeze was placed on the payoffs, which would have exceeded $3 million, and Chris Harn, a programmer at Autotote, and his two accomplices all did jail time. Seven years later, however, questions still linger in the minds of some bettors about the integrity of the overall tote system."
Here in turn is how I responded. It should be noted that I also responded to the Bloodhorse writer the same way as he had left off his list the great traning feat by P.G. Johnson when Volponi won the Classic that year.
"Interesting list. I happen to think the Pick Six scandal was probably the top story for two reasons. 1: It brought forward not only the real (and some percieved) problems with the technology aspect of the industry but also the regulatory aspect. Tracks that want something for nothing, ie:tote services combined with the usual human nature of greed. 2: It also did something that in my view is almost criminal. One of the greatest horse men of our time, P.G. Johnson did a magnificant training job and won what is considered by many the most important race of the year with a horse many felt didn’t belong. P.G. knew different. As such the glory, attention and the recognition for one of the great upsets by any horse or trainer was over shadowed.
This is a bit personal for me. F.B Lantz, who I worked for years ago was an assistant trainer for P.G. before going off on his own. Frank was closer to me then my father ever was and over the years, I learned what a great trainer P.G. was not only from Frank, but watching after Frank died.
On top of that, I worked for the tote company involved for 29 years. We are still suffering the effects of that scandal in the industry today with the perception of wagering integrity being questioned every moment.
To this day, all we ever see about that day anymore is “the scandal”! And a great training feat by one of the best goes largely ignored. Again. Criminal!"
I point this out because it is a perfect example of how something bad, ie: the Pick Six Scandal, overshadows something great, ie: Hall of Famer P.G. Johnson's fabulous handling of Volponi. This is what the industry has to overcome. Perceptions can be made in a moment and can take years to undo! HRI and others must somehow get the good that is the sport out front as the lead stories. As I state, many in the industry respond to these columns. We must somehow overcome the mis-conceptions with facts and information. The infighting in the industry has to come to an end. Someone has to lead!