If you receive a paycheck from the New York Racing Association., are a member of a wagering platform that doesn’t handle your favorite track, or born Patrick Biancone, 2007 wasn’t so good.
If, however, you’re a high class dirt loving three-year-old, own stock in a synthetic surface-manufacturing company, or born Calvin Borel, you made some good memories.
Nationally, synthetic racetracks made a huge and dramatic impact while never scratching the surface (pun intended) of what it means for the future of the sport and its breeding industry. It was the racing story of 2007.
Unless the future of New York’s racing franchise is settled in favor of thoroughbred racing, the racing story of 2007 might not matter.
It’s true that all racing, like politics, is local.
But everyone knows that the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL does best when the Giants, Yankees, Knicks and Rangers are having winning seasons.
It’s no different in the thoroughbred game. The sport benefits in California, Kentucky and Florida when Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga are robust.
The popular proliferation of international racing in 2007 was the dominant story for racing worldwide. But like the aforementioned leagues and states, international racing needs a healthy American racing industry.
Without looking at the numbers, figure that national betting handle will remain flat at around $15 billion this year.
But $15 billion doesn’t buy what it used to. So, unless America embraces the marriage of Internet technology to more wagering products like betting exchanges and lower takeout, handle will not only stagnate but will flat-line.
In 2007, racing learned that racinos are nothing more than a trendy quick fix. Hopefully racing learned as much, and the remedy is for the physicians of industry to heal themselves.
The problem is that no one in the seat of power listens. In fact no seat even exists.
Indeed, all these troublesome issues are not exclusive to the transition of 2007 into 2008. Going forward, the areas of concern are timeless. Hopefully time for finding needed solutions doesn’t run out.
Thankfully, what happened between the fences proved a great distraction both pragmatically and aesthetically.
For me, the success of the greatest Non-Triple Crown series ever helped celebrate the accomplishments of Barbaro in the same manner his death earlier at once inflated and deflated those accomplishments.
It does, after all, begin and end with the race horse.
And, so, a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner finally was stout enough to win a Kentucky Derby. His prep regimen had put one racetrack on the national map and a synthetic one under a microscope. A colt named Street Sense ultimately provided an answer.
His victory led to my personal favorite moment of the year; the horse-back celebration of a jockey in rose colored goggles finding his way to a winner’s circle he visited many times before but never like this.
Then a Derby rival, a horse that eventually would prove worthy of a Horse of the Year title, re-broke in midstretch to snatch a victory so improbable as to render four decades of Preakness less special. And that includes the ding-dong of 1989.
But instead of a Belmont afterthought, racing witnessed another moment in the very special history of this very special racing series. For the first time in more than a century, a filly would beat the colts with a thisclose finish going a true classic distance.
I’m positive I’ll never see three individual, albeit in-tandem, performances executed so dramatically again.
In fact, I’d bet on it.
The expansion of Breeders’ Cup, whose 2007 debut, again depending on whether your pew was under cover or exposed to the elements, either failed or succeeded.
Hopeful and reasonably certain, Breeders’ Cup expansion will be viewed as a success in another 10 years. Let’s hope the 2008 renewal dawns bright beneath a warm Southern California sun.
There’s no rule that more must equal less.
What I also hope for 2008 and beyond is that the industry realizes how the continued proliferation of synthetic track racing will change a time-honored game. Dirt is either real or it’s not. It’s either sand and loam or clay, or it’s not.
Synthetic surfaces adds a third element to a sport in which its participants race. Racing not turf racing and everything else. Not in this country, anyway. Synthetic tracks will change the way stallions are bred to mares, the way common sense could not.
Stamina, like speed, can’t be taught. My hope for 2008 and beyond is that racing holds on to the sand and loam and clay and finds a better way to make traditional dirt tracks safer.
The best improvement of the past year is how the industry finally is starting to deal with its number one problem; cheaters using drugs.
Biancone, should he be found guilty in the cobra venom scandal, just might have to be the poster child in the war on illegal drugs. That would be a notorious achievement if he were kicked off a third continent for drug violations.
And so it was a good thing when Kentucky joined California and Mid-Atlantic racetracks in banning the use of anabolic steroids.
It might not appear so but racing took some positive strides in ‘07. Hopefully that trend continues into ’08 and beyond.