Monday, October 07, 2013

Of Hondas and Horse Racing

The Japanese simply do things better than us. They make better cars. They make way better samurais. And they make better horse racing.

In a story by CNN, it reports on the superiority of horse racing in the Land of the Rising Punt. There was a time when horse racing had a seedy reputation, was muscled by organized crime bosses and harbored no public trust.

American sport fans can relate. Horse racing’s reputation as a horse butchering industry precedes it with many people. Even among the few horse players remaining, the trust among them with the racetrack organizations is jaded and frayed. Yet Japan is thriving.

We can all agree there are too many race dates. We can all agree that it waters down race cards. Winter horse racing in this country rarely has large, bettor-friendly fields. Even in the summer with Saratoga going 40 days and six days a week has watered its product down. Now get a load of what the Japanese do.
Instead of having week-long meets, they race on Saturday’s and Sundays. It effectively turns every weekend into our Breeders’ Cup weekend: Big money, huge fields, great competition, and salty payouts.

Not only that, but trainers condition a maximum of 30 horses. Call it a Horse Cap. This has a resonant effect of showcasing the amount of talent among horseman all over the country. Think of all the trainers in America who wallow in squalor because they fail to recruit the owners willing to buy better athletes. The playing field is not equal.

There’s two paths for a trainer to break through in this country. One, the trainers grinds away on his/her own and hopes to get lucky with a random horse that propels them to fame. Akin to winning the lottery. Two, be an assistant trainer to “the machine”, go out on your own and take some decent stock with you. Then hope you can carry that momentum. Not a slam dunk either, just look at Seth Benzel. And, according to Equibase, Benzel is no longer training horses.

In the CNN piece, Ed Dunlop, a foreign trainer in Japan, said, "It's enormous compared to what we're used to. Horses have huge followings and jockeys too. You'll see posters of them out there, which you'd never see in the UK for a second. At the Japan Cup (the biggest race on the calendar), there's 100,000 people there. The atmosphere is like nothing I've heard before. The noise is genuinely unbelievable."

We see posters of horses and jockeys at the racetracks, but this is merely decorative. Here all you’re doing is advertising to people who already go to the track, few as they are. What about an Orb banner in Times Square leading up to the Jockey Club Gold Cup? (Sure, you would’ve witnessed a dud, but, hey, you would’ve witnessed it.) The horse is imposing in person, so throw him up against the biggest athletes in Times Square. Show the world our best athletes are the ones with four legs. That would have to bring in some people.

I’m using arbitrary numbers here, but they’re not too far off. Racing five days a week, nine races a day with average fields of seven horses, makes for 315 entries. Racing two days a week, for 10 races a day with 14 horses in each field is 280 entries of better racing and better betting. The purses are higher and so too is the competition.

I, for one, would love a sport that gave us a week leading up to a full day of Super Saturday-style racing every week. There could be an Graded Stakes Pick 5 every Saturday and Sunday. Or Friday and Saturday so as not to butt up against the other sport that plays once a week and is the most popular watch in the country.

There’s a reason I’ve driven a Honda since 1998, a reason why I pass the Karaoke mike, and a reason I learned from them how to deal with tyrannical dinosaurs: The Japanese do things better than we do.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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