Friday, July 04, 2014
For July 4th Horseplayers, It’s Morning in America
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 3, 2014—The second half of the racing season began this past Tuesday and we’re preferring to see what remains of 2014 as a glass that is half full despite racing’s myriad problems.
All know what those negatives are: Permissive medication, coupled with the reality wrought be negative perception; a continued lack of transparency on several important fronts, and of alphabet horsemen’s groups that still expect the customer to pay for everything from a higher tax on wagers to improved testing protocols.
Despite all that, there are a number of positive takeaways that will be our focus, the hope that positive storylines continue moving the game forward while it continues to work out its problems in a meaningful way.
On balance, the racing between the fences has been stellar, but only at the higher echelons of the sport. The emergence of Palace Malice and Untapable as legitimate superstars in their divisions has been a welcome breath of freshness.
But the day-to-day sport has been underwhelming and with the exception of the sport’s highest profile venues, there simply remains too much racing. What is needed, particularly when it comes to smaller foal crops and field size, is addition by subtraction.
Providing their good health, the next starts for Palace Malice and Untapable will be most welcome wherever their connections decide to ship them. Of particular note is the ambitious campaign mapped out by Cot Campbell, one that includes Palace Malice appearances in the Whitney, Woodward, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
It simply does not get any more high profile than that.
Whether the colt holds on to his divisional lead or returns to take measure of older horses at Santa Anita this fall, the homespun California Chrome saga, despite the disappointing Triple Crown finale and post-race histrionics, elevated racing to a place above-the-fold.
It will be interesting to see whether there’s more there there, such as a Horse of the Year title. Is he legitimately top class or was his success largely attributable to a blend of early development and experience. It will be fascinating theater provided by the dual classics winner and his connections.
The failure of California Chrome to seal the deal resulted in the emergence of a talented new challenger for the second half of the three-year-old year, Belmont Stakes-winning Tonalist, a late developer that figures to bring the Travers into sharp focus.
The Triple Crown chase nonetheless concluded on another positive note thanks to a policy change in the NYRA’s racing office that created the best event day this side of Breeders’ Cup, carding 10 stakes races including five Grade 1s.
That’s what makes tomorrow’s card so interesting. The Stars and Stripes Festival program attracted seven European grass runners, among others that started over there and wound up here with some of the best trainers in the game. There will be five graded stakes, including events for top sprinters and aspiring second-season sophomores.
The most encouraging and dramatic sign of progress in the first half of 2014 is a relatively new development; the emergence of the horseplayer as a political force that can affect change, almost at warp speed compared to the glacial pace at which progress is usually made in this sport.
Can’t speak for other betting-boycott supporters but I take no comfort from the fact that Churchill Downs Inc. took it on the fiscal chin to the tune of nearly $48-million in handle. That comes to $1.3 million every racing day not named Oaks or Derby. Without those days, business was down approximately 25 percent.
For all the slings and arrows shot its way, none of this would have been possible if it were not for dissenting voices on the Internet and social media. From websites speaking truth to power, to grass roots participation from fans in racing chat rooms, industry organizations took note.
The perfect storm for change turned out to be a disqualification in the final race of the day this winter at Gulfstream Park, allowing a carryover jackpot to continue. The DQ, in and of itself a controversial call, was met with great consternation and suspicion.
The response on the Internet was immediate and forceful, resulting in subsequent dialogue between fans and racetrack executives. The result was policy changes meant to improve the race adjudication process.
The back-and-forth bore fruit in that the response was in the main positive for bettors although, to date, not all promises have been kept. Horseplayers have long memories.
While no pleasure was taken from CDI’s travails, what was gratifying to see is what can happen when a disparate group of gamblers get together in a common cause. Bettors got mad as hell and decided not to take it anymore. Each passing day, the influence of a grass roots organization such as the Horseplayers Association of North America continues to gain influence and beginning to get invited to sit down at the table.
And, so, as the nation celebrates its freedoms this weekend, there is reason for a very small segment of the American people to feel optimistic about the future. We know it won’t happen overnight but it finally looks like we won’t get fooled again.