Discover more from Going In Circles Digest
Preakness week musings
Real writing on Racing 💯
If you are reading these words there is a greater than average chance that you have some reasonable degree of knowledge regarding the thoroughbred racing game. Notice I didn’t use the word sport or industry as a descriptor as it’s difficult to argue that the majority of our racing is what we’d consider a true sport and the industry vagrancies are mostly not well understood. A game is an apt phrase that represents how thoroughbred horse racing and its ancillary offshoots in bloodstock are viewed by most.
"When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation."
- Jane McGonigal (author - Reality is Broken)
Racing surely contains these four elements to varying degrees as the goal for all is winning, there are rules (regardless of how dysfunctional they may be), no greater feedback system exists than social media and no one involved in racing in any capacity is doing so with a gun held to their head. The reasons we choose to play this game vary greatly depending on a plethora of individual preferences, social standing, competitive zeal, financial considerations and ego among others. Racing can be what you want it to be, your participation level isn’t predetermined, you choose the amount of time or money that you want to pour into the game. The Tao of horseracing is how you can play in some fashion regardless of who you are or where you’re from or what you do. From a guy that makes $2 bets on an occasional weekend foray to conglomerates spending millions on untested horses, the racing game is available to be played in so many different manners.
Oh it’s not without its flaws, that’s for sure as anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention can see. The ‘powers that be’ have done a horrific job of stewarding the sport and industry through the choppy waters of the last few decades when unprecedented competition suddenly cropped up and the spotlight of ‘tsk-tsk society’ unveiled warts that had been disdainfully ignored. The dysfunction of government regulatory bodies overseeing racing has been often bizarrely chalked up to “an industry that couldn’t police itself” though it has never actually had much latitude to do that. That pesky little document called the Bill of Rights that Jimmy Madison wrote way back in 1789 prevents “Racing” from just “throwing guys out”, especially without proper due process regardless of how many bute positives or form reversals are attributed to said shady trainer. The irony of medication violations under that system falling under the ‘absolute insurer rule’, which essentially states that trainers ARE guilty before even considering the facts of the case, shouldn’t be lost on you either. The promises surrounding the vaunted HISA program look as though they will pose an greater infringement on trainers rights with immediate suspensions involving anything but a very narrow list of “approved” drugs. This rush to judgement in spite of a completely new manner of testing, creates a totally unnecessary “zero tolerance” level for non-PED’s. That in turn drastically increases the possibility of environmental contamination positives that do nothing but tarnish reputations and create more racing dirty laundry to be dragged through the mainstream media mud.
It isn’t just those populist leaning policies, more likely to create a murky playing field than catch any of the actual bad guys, that are troubling those who must operate under the new rules. A well-respected and quite successful trainer (and not one to cause waves) recently summed up the controversy well:
For most people horseracing is just a game to be played, not a battle to be fought, not a war to be won. Games are supposed to be fun and for a rapidly increasing number of us, it’s just not that fun anymore.
A regular guy racing fan and bettor for forty years recently said to me:
“Racing used to be so great. We didn’t even realize how good we had it till you look at what it has turned into. The same trainers and jockeys win all the races. Small fields, even in the turf races, with huge favorites and that’s before the aggravating late odds changes. It costs a fortune to go on the big days when they stack all the good races together. I love the game but it just seems nobody in racing cares about guys like me anymore.”
He’s not alone and HISA won’t solve a single one of his gripes. This game or sport or industry or whatever you want to call it is in desperate need of a leader and it’s sad to say but…it sure doesn’t seem like one is coming.
🌟 Hey Larry Rivelli I remember when you started out as a trainer and I’d see you wearing slick looking sweatsuits like you were a cast member of the Soprano’s. You should seriously consider shipping your prized horse to the land of Tony Soprano and Pie-o-My because you’d have a big shot to win the grade 1 $1,000,000 Haskell if you do.
🦀 It’s Preakness week and there is less buzz about this years version than I can remember. This despite the promising Derby winner Mage in the field with what seems to be an excellent chance to emerge victorious and head to New York with a chance to make history. Anybody worried yet?
🌻 (yeah I know it’s not a Black-eyed Susan but it’s close) Speaking of lack of buzz, has an undefeated 3yo filly in recent memory flew under the radar as much as Faiza has? Nary a word has been spoken about her in the national racing media and she didn’t exactly scare anyone out of the entries of the Black-eyed Susan this Friday as 11 other fillies were entered to challenge her. The west coast three year old fillies beyond Faiza haven’t impressed and perhaps that is why she hasn’t been properly lauded, but on a nice day of racing, full of workmanlike-type stakes competitors, she may wind up being the star of the day.
🦀 “Maryland, My Maryland… I weep for the Pimlico Special in this year of vanquished older horses…oh the legends of yesteryear are rolling over in their graves as surely as the sun will rise over the Chesapeake Bay…this field is the lightest since the groups that lined up against Whirlaway in ‘42 and Citation in ‘48…the ‘not so special Special’ may soon be shipped out in a Mayflower van…Maryland, My Maryland…” (*see below)
⛔️ Public Service reminder for those that might wanna consider it - Just because you qualify for a race, doesn’t mean that you should run in it. This advice can be utilized for a wide variety of racing classes, not just the Kentucky Derby.
🦀 🌻 We will have a special Friday edition of the Digest covering a few of the stakes on the BES/Pimlico Special Card
*the 1942 and 1948 Pimlico Specials were walkovers