Monday, June 17, 2013
Media Star Wars
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, June 17, 2013—Unfortunately--and not for the reasons you might surmise out of hand—the battle between various segments of the racing industry and the racing media in all its forms is alive and well.
The newspaper business is in as much trouble as the racing industry these days, but if racing doesn’t think it needs media coverage, pro or con, it is sadly mistaken: Any business that does not court media; traditional or otherwise, cannot expect to survive, much less prosper:
ITEM: New York Post Fires Racing Staff on Belmont Stakes Eve
It is no secret that the racing industry—and sports leagues to some extent—no longer believes it’s necessary to at least co-exist with mainstream media of which Internet coverage is now part.
The word blogger, whatever the industry, has become a curse. Yes, many bloggers do not feel it necessary to fact-check before writing. Indeed, shooting from the editorial hip can be highly counter-productive and in some cases patently wrong.
But there are two realities about this that needs acknowledging: First, the information explosion created by 24-hour cable news and the Internet has kept the populace informed as never before. How much it cares beyond the state of Kanye and Kim’s newborn child is another matter.
Secondly, and of greater significance, is that all organizations have become proficient in obfuscation and the spreading of disinformation. Resultantly, honest research doesn’t always unearth the real story, although that’s no reason to stop trying.
The good and bad news about social media is that everyone has an opinion, but it is up to traditional and new media sources to supply opinion that yields perspective. If the population truly cares about the subject at hand, it will Google all about it.
Soon after a New York Post story critical of the New York Racing Association was published during the 2012 Saratoga race meet, the company pulled all its advertising.
That is NYRA’s right, of course. But given that the Post was a mainstream daily that extensively covered horse racing in its market, was it in the association’s best interests to do so?
Apparently it thought it was and that the publishing of daily entries, reporting, commentary and handicapping be damned. Never mind that the Post was the most recognizable source of horse racing coverage in the media capital of the world.
Deserved or not, NYRA always has had a reputation for arrogance: The belief that the Post needed them more than they needed daily coverage of racing would seem to support that notion.
Ironically, there was some meeting of the minds between representatives of both organizations with respect to the lost advertising revenue; no matter.
Once News Corp. decided to place its properties in different pockets of the same pants to please the marketplace or make the Post more attractive to sell, it cut costs and pulled the plug.
The fact that the Post pulled its coverage on Belmont eve obviously was intended to send a message. Mission accomplished; everyone noticed and horse racing took another hit, this one in America’s biggest market.
ITEM: Twitter Wars; Industry Organizations Circle Wagons
In case you missed this recent item, there is a war of words in the Twittersphere between Bob Baffert and Ray Paulick, gentlemen who need no introduction to this audience. The issue was seven mysterious deaths of horses from Baffert’s barn within an 18-month period.
The problem started when Paulick referenced the seven deaths in the wake of the quarter-horse death of the Ruidoso Futurity winner.* It escalated after 2012 Haskell Stakes winner Paynter made a miraculous recovery then underscored his return to health with an impressive victory. In a post-race TVG interview, Baffert gratuitously remarked: “Ray Paulick, if you’re watching, put this is your pipe and smoke it.”
The phrase is a well-known cliché, of course, but not to anyone inside the business who perceived the comment to be nothing less than a pointed jibe meant to discredit the messenger.
Regrettably, Baffert’s fit of pique does not appear to be spontaneous but rather part of an anti-media campaign forged by Baffert and family against anyone who raises questions about the Hall of Famer’s training practices.
Baffert’s wife Jill has been her husband’s staunchest public defender dating back to the misunderstanding that surfaced at Del Mar surrounding the sale of Richard’s Kid, a dual Pacific Classic winner formerly trained by Baffert.
This latest dust-up was a war of words between Jill Baffert and Paulick that followed the "Ruidoso death" comment.
There also was a circulated e-mail from Baffert to industry insiders re: horseplayer advocate Andy Asaro who has had problems with Baffert since the trainer’s owner, Mike Pegram, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, lobbied for a parimutuel takeout increase.
Baffert used a similar tack to smear Asaro, referring to him as “bankrupt.” Asaro has demanded an apology which, at this writing, was not forthcoming. Today, Asaro learned that "apparently someone has asked Attorney Ryan Enderle to look into my past, beyond 10 years ago, and is threatening to post a past Bankruptcy of mine online unless I back off."
On the same day the Post fired its racing writers, I received a call from a Baffert associate defending the trainer and questioning my role as executive editor for allowing former jockey agent Harry Hacek to occasionally post commentary at HRI under the “Backside View” flag, some very critical of Baffert. The contact asked if I would speak with Bob. I agreed.
We had a respectful conversation in which we disagreed about his handling of the horse death situation. Baffert’s tone changed somewhat when he discussed the credibility of both Hacek and Asaro. I offered Baffert equal time and confirmed our conversation with this follow-up e-mail:
It was good that we had a talk on the phone this afternoon.
To reiterate, you will have equal time to say whatever you wish, without editing that would alter context in any way.
I will write a precede (cq) that introduces the issue to readers who might be unfamiliar with the subject matter.
Your story will lead HRI for a two-day period and, of course, will live forever in the archives. Take your time with it.
I will e-mail you to advise when the story will run and, of course, if I have any questions.
May all your horses have a safe trip tomorrow and every day.
John Pricci, executive editor
I have not yet received Baffert’s retort and sincerely hope that I will. What seems obvious—my conversation notwithstanding—is that there has been a campaign waged by Baffert’s supporters against racing media or anyone taking a differing view. That is their right, of course.
But for TVG--which promised to give Paulick equal time to react to Baffert’s remark--to rescind its invitation due to a “scheduling conflict” appears little more than another industry media organization favoring the game’s powerful practitioners rather than report on the story or provide a serious, fair-minded editorial is embarrassingly inexcusable.
* correction made to clarify original source reference, made at 6:12 p.m., 061713
Written by John Pricci