Early in Preakness week, Mr. Gallup announced that after his minions went out to take country’s temperature, they found that 38 percent of the respondents wouldn’t mind if thoroughbred racing, and dog racing, for that matter, went on holiday and never came back. Ever.
Arguably, it could have been worse. It could have been George Bush-type numbers. The industry shouldn’t despair, however. It did take Bush II almost eight years to reach the negative 71 percentile.
PETA, with their outrageous charges against trainer Larry Jones and jockey Gabriel Saez, stopped short of playing the Hitler card that Bush used against Obama this week. In PETA’s defense, at least they’ve accomplished some righteous goals.
So either Big Brown failed to spark the imagination, or a lot of Gallup’s 38 percent live in New York’s Capital District, not likely since the during racing season Albany becomes a suburb of Saratoga. The sport has loyal fans in the Capital District.
Maybe Gallup’s 38 percent live near the real Capital, near 1600 Pennsylvania, because they certainly didn’t show up at Pimlico with a mind to set any handle records there. It was sunny and fast in Baltimore despite Friday’s deluge, with only one of four scheduled turf races lost. But early handle figures were off double digits, big-time double digits.
Filly fallout? What else could it be?
As Preakness day lengthened, fans began trickling into the Teletheater, slowly, and it felt as if a switch were being tripped, but it produced little more than a flicker, really.
The field for the Grade 2 Dixie was now approaching the starting gate as a national television audience tuned in to watch--what else--a roundtable discussion about how the industry can best protect its equine athletes.
The discussion began nearly three hours after a peaceful demonstration across the street from the Pimlico stakes barn was concluding. There would be another to follow, with more scheduled three weeks from now downstate at Belmont Park.
A Person for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said she was contacted this week by people from inside the racing industry supporting PETA’s goals, namely the end of two-year-old racing, a shorter season, and better control over both controlled and not-so-controlled substances.
And you know what you can do with those whips!
So it was up to Big Brown to save not only a Black-Eyed Preakness but maybe an entire sport, at least for the next three weeks.
If the Preakness performance doesn’t do just that, then maybe it’s time to turn out the lights because the party will be over. Big Brown was nothing short of sensational.
Kent Desormeaux made his second winning Preakness ride look a little stressful early, but very easy late. After breaking sharply, he settled the colt inside, the preferred tack when going around two Pimlico turns.
Big Brown wanted to go, and if there was anyone capable of staying close to him in those early stages, that would have had him right where they wanted him: How’s that Big Boy, here’s a little dirt for your face.
But Riley Ticker and Edgar Prado elected instead to deny Gayego what was becoming a soft lead. While they put some mild pressure on the leader, Big Brown, still under a half nelson from Desormeaux, was taken to the outside to sit just outside the pacesetters.
All were in their comfort zones now.
As the leaders curled into the far turn, Desormeaux let out a notch of rein and joined the leaders three abreast. Leaving the three furlong marker, Desormeaux, via his body language, communicated to Rick Dutrow and anyone else paying attention that he had the speed horses at his mercy.
At the point that Big Brown and Desormeaux straightened away into the lane at Old Hilltop--the same spot where he blew the Derby wide open two weeks ago--he laid his Preakness rivals to waste with what is becoming his patented electric kick.
When the opportunity presents itself, the Cajun Hall of Famer doesn’t wilt in the spotlight‘s glare. And so Desormeaux began showing off his “big horse,” gearing him down, sneaking peeks back, styling, and saving something for another undefeated rival laying in the weeds at Belmont Park.
At this moment, that colt, Casino Drive, is the second fastest three-year-old in America going long this year. His Peter Pan victory was frighteningly reminiscent to that of Coastal in 1979, who prevented Spectacular Bid from becoming the fourth Triple Crown winner of the decade, twelfth in history.
Since Affirmed in 1978, 11 three-year-olds have won the first two jewels in the crown. Big Brown makes it a dozen. A dozen for a dozen, on Affirmed‘s 30th anniversary. Nice symmetry, that.
So now maybe the sport’s business will turn around at Belmont Park in three weeks. Incomplete estimates from Capital OTB indicated they will be off about $200,000 in business from last year, $2.1 million to $1.9, excluding the finale from Pimlico.
But the very best of all is that the horses completed the course safely. Now, at a place they call beautiful Belmont, a sport might fight back from adversity on the big brown wings of a thoroughbred race horse.