The traveling done by the racing press in the United States has all but disappeared. It was observed, though there was no official count, that the foreign racing press covering this Breeders’ Cup may have outnumbered the Americans. This is lamentable.
Newspaper circulation is in steep decline in this country at least in part because newspaper executives have lost touch with the readership, preferring to dictate content to providing what is desired by audience.
Major American daily newspapers were represented sparsely at Breeders’ Cup XXV.
The Los Angeles Times rediscovered racing just in time for the Breeders’ Cup and covered the race with three people. How long this will continue is a matter of speculation. For the first time in memory, no Kentucky paper assigned a columnist to the Breeders’ Cup. My former employer – which until last year routinely assigned two people to the Cup and covered those run in New York with as many as 10 -- sent no one, dismissing the event for the first time in its history. Andrew Beyer, who is technically retired from the Washington Post, represented the sponsor of his pension.
Neither major Chicago daily was represented nor were the Baltimore Sun or the major dailies in New Jersey, Florida and Texas (though Gary West, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was in attendance on his own dime after having watched the last Breeders’ Cup and recent Triple Crown races from deep in the heart. “I’m here,” he said one morning at Clockers’ Corner, “because I want to be here.”). Papers in smaller racing markets – Cleveland, Detroit, and northern California – that once employed racing writers and handicappers routinely in attendance in the early years of the Breeders’ Cup, have abandon the sport. The Boston Globe was absent. Ed Gray, formerly of the Boston Herald, covered the races for his former paper while working on assingment for the Breeders' Cup. Sports Illustrated declined to cover the races at Santa Anita.
The Breeders’ Cup, in a completely unintentional but serendipitous result of separation of the classes, brings diverse groups with much in common together. The “press hotel” is common in other sports but in racing only happens at the Breeders’ Cup. There are other hotels at every Breeders’ Cup venue at which VIPs of various stripe are segregated by status – sponsors, owners, trainers. The point is, the Breeders’ Cup is the only racing event at which the people who make a living writing about the game sleep for a week in the same building and each evening for a week convenes in the same bar. Last week, the thinning of the annual gathering provided a stark illustration of what has become of the racing media in this country.
This time, the long, steady decline in numbers seemed stark. The American racing press is almost extinct, outnumbered last week in California – and this is an estimation since there is no official head count -- by journalists from the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Asia as well as the domestic trade media.
Aside from a couple of pieces written for ESPN.com and others for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, my primary focus last week at Santa Anita was working as a member of the Breeders’ Cup notes team. This group included several veteran racing journalists now semi-retired freelancers as well racetrack publicists. The team gathers, assembles and disseminates information on the participants during the week leading up to the weekend and, on race days, shifts its focus to the race-by-race compilation of reaction of the involved humans. There were 14 members, which rivaled, in number, excluding the trade media – staffers representing the Daily Racing Form, The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times and a smattering of others in service to various racing web sites – the total of domestic print media in attendance.
The decline of the racing press has followed in lockstep with the dissipation of the audience, the migration to off-site venues. This, coupled with satellite and cable television dissemination or races, takes the racing audience out of the grandstand and into alternative locales that include homes and offices. Sports editors in racing markets, who considered racing and wagering bedrock to the news package, were replaced by people who grew up in the age of OTB with no grasp of the sport or the machinations brought on by marriage of technology and negligent racing executives, who for decades have watched the live fan base decline without doing much to lure it back.
So, cutbacks, buyouts and attrition have emptied many seats in the press boxes of American racetracks. (The new Gulfstream has no press box.) The decline cannot steepen. We have reached and foot of the cliff.
Readership surveys -- by which newspaper executives live and die – will always leave racing on the fringe because most who bought papers for racing coverage – charts, entries, selections and news – long ago stopped relying on newspapers. After a lifetime spent working on newspapers – 27 of those, in Florida and New York, devoted exclusively to racing, my own daily purchase is limited to the Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Daily Racing Form. The rest -- what’s worth reading -- is online. -- PM