Real Writing on Racing 💯
There is something inside of everyone of us that provides hope and faith and confidence and optimism. It’s part of the human spirit that drives us towards whatever it is that we desire in our lives, to focus on what makes us happy and steers us clear of what turns us off. Differences within that spirit are what creates feelings, whether they be negative or positive emotions is dependent on chemical changes in our brains, on our learned life experiences and environmental influences. What we as humans feel as happiness is derived from successfully shepherding our emotions through the gauntlet of what life throws at us, with the good lifting us up while at the same time, stifling the bad. Yet as simplistic of an explanation as that is, modern stress is far more complex whereas simply separating evil from good is rarely as black and white as we desire it to be.
Contemplating thoroughbred racing’s future is surely not as uncomplicated as separating what makes us feel good about the sport from what makes us uneasy as an industry. The polarized landscape that faces society has made navigating the rough seas of social license more daunting than ever, with each passing misfortune seeming to chip away at racing’s very right to exist. A blunt manner of describing it would be every time a race horse dies in a very visible light, the whole of racing gets shoved one step closer toward the edge of the cliff of the obsolete. Each ‘increasingly difficult to justify’ drug snafu that ensnares one of the games titans, whether it be Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher or whoever may be next on the docket, further diminishes the scant credibility of the leadership of the sport who have been loathe to rein in “too big to fail” outfits. The day-to-day annoyances of uncompetitive races filled with rough riding jockeys and savant training feats barely make headlines within the game, the primary focus shifting from racing’s depressing ‘business as usual’ attitude to one of mere survivability.
Those stark, cold winds seem to be picking up strength, causing a shiver as you read another somber racing headline. The icy reception that industry explanation statements receive belies the fact that the summer heat is almost here, yet for thoroughbred racing it increasingly feels like “Winter is coming.”
Alas we are still here and if you are reading these words you haven’t given up yet. The negativity emanating from virtually everywhere within the sphere of racing in recent times has been overwhelming and we aren’t here to dismiss any of those bad feelings. Yet we also have to come to grips with the causation of the casualties, putting out a fire without determining its cause surely won’t prevent the next blaze…which might be worse. As an industry, the lack of a coherent plan involving each segment of stakeholders has served to soak the sport with gasoline, everyone holding their collective breath hoping that a tragic spark doesn’t arrive to set it aflame. HISA isn’t a plan, it’s a regulatory decree. The National Thoroughbred League isn’t a plan, it’s the latest “let’s subjugate racing by having parties and celebrities and selling hoodies” scheme (I see you Pegasus). The graded stakes schedule isn’t a plan, it’s a mess. The Triple Crown isn’t a plan, it’s actually been a rousing success which naturally causes half of racing to want to change it.
You get the picture though…there is no plan for anything, no plan at all.
During its golden era, thoroughbred racing could stake relatively accurate claims that it was the sport with the greatest attendance, putting more people in the seats than even America’s pastime, baseball. For decades racing was the only sport that the public could legally bet on, a monopoly surely squandered. In more recent recent times, internet wagering on horseracing had an almost twenty year jumpstart on legalized sports wagering…yet we now approach that industry, a competitor, with hat in hand, hoping they will provide a lifeline which may ultimately turn out to be a noose.
The coldest fact of life is everything that lives eventually dies and racing’s turn to face the guillotine undoubtedly will happen…someday…the sobering reality is we always assumed that someday wouldn’t seem so close.
Yet I offer each of you a small dose of good counsel today despite the gloomy forecast. To everyone with love for the game, for anybody that is struggling with their emotional or financial connection to racing perhaps heed the words of 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“Life is colorful. Don’t waste its possibilities by thinking in black and white.”
The Belmont Stakes weekend cards should be good, Saratoga and Del Mar soon follow…as mind-numbingly frustrating as racing can be, it’s finest parts are still energizing. Let’s try to make the best of it and enjoy the great game that we all fell in love with so long ago…while we still can.
🇸🇦 This is a great piece by Jay Hovdey about the worrisome message sent when a top trainer (with no controversies) like Jimmy Jerkens can’t get even a second glance from owners.
💵 Canterbury Park opened last night with an innovative bettering menu, low takeout and management that is trying hard. Check out some of the stuff that they are doing.
Memorial Day weekend used to mean the Met Mile at Belmont but like much in racing…things change. In 2005 we got our last glimpse of the great Ghostzapper on the racetrack though we didn’t know it at the time. What a way to go out!