Many men who follow sports don’t pay too much attention to the Olympics, summer or winter. Other sports slice into the pie and one’s attention. The Olympics cross over, often getting more women involved in the telecast.
And isn’t the problem with horse racing that it has problems crossing over and getting on television to an audience who hasn’t gnawed down their cigar like it was a Jumbone. Why not pitch horse racing as an Olympic sport, say the next time it comes to Los Angeles?
With all the horses bred around the world there is no shortage of foreign horses. Mine That Bird could wave the flag. (Now there’s a Budweiser commercial.)
The summer games take place in August. The only meet that would suffer would be Del Mar and Saratoga (and yes, other smaller meets) in that window. Frankly, it’s an experiment worth trying for long-term growth at short-term expense.
A global system could take effect in the Olympic year to standardize the horses from Australia to Japan, from the United Arab Emirates to the United States. There could never be qualifying heats so the races around the planet will have to serve as “qualifiers” with a point system accordingly weighted.
There is the gambling issue to consider as well. Would Santa Anita take bets on an Olympic event, or would it be best to let Las Vegas or other “off shore” companies take the bets and pay them out? I know in my yearly foray to Las Vegas, usually around Dubai World Cup time, some sports books take wagers on it while Dubai does not.
What about purses? Well, these are games usually played by amateurs, so money wouldn’t be parceled out. Winning a gold medal for the country should be enough. This isn’t the Dream Team. Though the Grade 1 Olympic Dash would likely include the mighty Digger in its inaugural year, second-place finisher in the Grade 2 General George.
Who do the jockeys ride for? Is the competing country the horse, the rider, or both? It would have to the horse, but would Edgar Prado think about riding a Peruvian-bred over a Kentucky-bred? Does Frankie Dettori ride for the UAE?
To answer that perhaps there should be a jockey competition, much like the Shoemaker Award for Breeders’ Cup weekend, where medals are handed out at the end of the day for the rider with the most points. Everybody wins!
Of paramount importance should be an education seminar prior to the running of the races. Not too far back while I was talking to Dr. William Wilmot of Stepwise Farm here in Saratoga Springs, he suggested that on the big race days, like the Kentucky Derby, that there be a roundtable to discuss and educate the public about the reality of “destruction cases.”
Put a veterinarian, a trainer, a jockey, and anyone else who can aptly relay the reality of an Eight Belles or a Barbaro. These animals are professional athletes who make contact with the earth harder than a $5,000 claimer. The forces they impart—and withstand—are far great than other horses. Their threshold for pain is better. The great ones run through a little discomfort. Couple that with the concussive forces on the ground and it may be easier—or at least less of a surprise—to stomach a Pine Island or a George Washington.
The casual fan needs to know that a horse is destroyed to help it, as paradoxical as that sounds. The doctors are professionals who commit their lives to saving racehorses and ensuring their comfort while competing and after.
The beauty of making horse racing an Olympic sport is NBC. NBC covers the Derby and Preakness every year and routinely wins awards for its coverage. They understand the sport and can handle a big race day. Tom Hammond, Bob Neumeier, Bob Costas, Donna Brothers, and Gary Stevens all have vast experience. Get Randy Moss and they’re set.
With these strategies in mind and the ability to strike a well of 25 million viewers seems too good to pass up. There is equestrian, lets throw in its bastard equivalent. Michael Matz would approve.
What does the sport have to lose? Popularity?