Monday, February 13, 2012
A Good Industry Idea; Will it Work?
One person; one vote. That’s the basic tenet of liberty. And this spring the National Thoroughbred Racing Association will give it to the people by allowing racing fans for the first time to vote in weekly Thoroughbred and Three-Year-Old polls, which until now had been a privilege reserved for about 20 hand-selected and esteemed turf writers.
But even before the new interactive plan is up and running, changes to the existing good old boy and girl network have been made. Today, ballots are due for the first polls of 2012 and the number of media voters
has been expanded more than three-fold. Secondly, for the first time since the system was created way back before the NTRA existed, there will be an open window. What that means is that now it will be revealed for all to see which turf writer ranked what horses from No. 1 to No. 10 in both polls.
The idea comes from Stephen Panus, the NTRA’s vice president of communications, who has been charged with bring racing’s message to the masses and with utilizing ever-changing technology and social media to grow the popularity of the sport. And it’s a fine idea.
“Historically, there has been a perception that there was an East Coast bias in the voting and as there is so much debate about the best horses, we wanted to open it up more in terms of geographical region, gender, bloggers who are passionate and other factors,” he said. “The second step was that when we thought about how to elevate this to a higher level, we thought there should be transparency. The voters should stand behind their top picks, just like in the national AP (and USA Today/Coaches) polls in college football and basketball. The third step was to engage the fans and get them more involved.”
This is where technology and social media enter the picture. There will actually be two types of polling: one still exclusively for the media, with more voters and more openness, and the other reserved for the fans. Panus said that the Fan Index poll, which will launch in April or May, will give those who are new to the sport or the casual fan, as well as those who have long been passionate about racing, the opportunity to be engaged and voice their opinions. Moreover, they will be heard across the social media universe.
The technology is being fine-tuned and when the fan poll is launched, they will be able to go to the NTRA website to view the media members’ selections of the top 10 horses and then click and drag the picks into a ranking of their own. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms will be incorporated to allow and encourage what should be spirited conversations about which horses deserve what position.
“I feel that this gives the fans a voice they deserve. They are the ones who go to the track or through an ADW and wager on the races. This is a way we can recognize and honor the fans and make it fun for them,” Panus said. “The forums are a way for people who love racing to connect and talk about it.”
This new and more egalitarian polling procedure, which the NTRA hopes will serve as a an entry point to get people thinking and talking more about Thoroughbred racing before and after the Triple Crown, is a good step toward that aim. But like the college football and basketball polls, the only ones that really matter are taken after the BCS game and the Final Four. Just ask Alabama and LSU or Kentucky and Syracuse.
Written by Lynne Snierson
Sunday, February 05, 2012
BETTER LEFT TO BOARDWALK EMPIRE
In case this little news item slipped by unnoticed during the past week, the owner of the Steel Pier in Atlantic City plans to bring back the almost century-old horse diving sideshow where real horses walk up the steps of a 40 foot tower, are mounted by a bathing beauty and then dive into a 12 foot pool below.
Seriously. I am not kidding. Not even a little.
“It’s iconic, it’s historical and it’s very popular”, Steel Pier President Anthony Catanoso told the NBC-TV affiliate in Philadelphia.
In the opinion of the local president of the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA): not so much. “I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s cruelty to animals,” said Nancy Beall.
I come down squarely on the side of the Atlantic City SPCA, and anyone else who cares about the humane treatment of animals. It’s a pretty safe bet that some of the intended horses will have at one time been racehorses. How anyone can think that this so-called attraction, which lasted into the 1970s, is a good idea or an acceptable sort of family entertainment is beyond me. And it’s beyond the pale.
Tourists and vacationers visiting the ocean side retreat might have thought this was acceptable back in the 1920s, but then they also thought that the exhibition of babies in incubators and other bizarre sideshows were okay.
As any aficionado of the superb and award-winning HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” can tell you, that so-called glory era of Atlantic City was also marked by racism, bigotry, sexism, domestic violence, anti-Semitism, extortion, blackmail, prostitution, prohibition, political corruption, the absence of labor laws, child abuse, class warfare, extreme violence, race fixing, World Series rigging, and the rise of mega-gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Arnold Rothstein, and Waxy Gordon and organized crime syndicates.
That all makes for riveting plot lines, fabulous character development, terrific dialogue, and a magnificent television series, but all of it and the horse diving shows are better left to celluloid and history. Using horses for that sort of “entertainment” is blatant cruelty and excessive abuse, pure and simple.
“The Humane Society of the United States emphatically opposes equine diving acts, which subject the animals to inhumane and potentially abusive situations in the training, transport, and performances,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, in a written statement to the media. “The stress and trauma endured by these animals, in addition to the risk of injury to them, makes these acts unacceptable. They are senseless animal exploitation for the sake of entertainment and profit.”
It defies the imagination that that this recent announcement is being met with what is termed “mixed reaction”. People have been quoted in various media saying they can’t wait to see the shows, which Catanoso wants to have operation by Memorial Day weekend.
If the SPCA and the HSUS can’t stop this as threatened through the legal system in time, the admission fee will be about $10 for adults. That money would be far better spent at the racetrack supporting the on track handle and purses paid to responsible horsemen.
Written by Lynne Snierson
Monday, January 30, 2012
Hail To the King of Chicago
Mark Guidry is about to become a Hall of Famer. It’s about damn time.
The man, one of only 22 jockeys to ride more than 5,000 winners, will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 23 and take his rightful place alongside the stars from professional and college football, baseball, basketball and all sorts of other sports who grace the facility. When the committee evaluated a record 142 nominees from 24 different sports and poured over a 25-page ballot, they surely came up with the right guy.
“Gid” is a talented, tough and terrific rider. Those 5,044 trips to the winner’s circle came from 31,321 mounts who brought home over $100 million in purses. Guidry’s other nickname is “The King of Chicago”, earned from 18 riding titles on the circuit: two at Arlington Park, seven at Hawthorne Park, and nine more at the old Sportsman’s Park. His most high profile win came in 2006 aboard Lemons Forever in the Kentucky Oaks, but he rode plenty of mighty fine horses for a lot of good horsemen for a very long time.
That time started pretty early. Like many of the other small, light, agile and fearless boys around his native Lafayette Louisiana, the region that has produced so many great jockeys, he started riding at the bush tracks when he was only nine years old. He once told me that they didn’t wear boots because they often didn’t even have shoes. He won his first recognized race at 16 and after a decade on the Louisiana circuit he came to Chicago.
The money, fame, glory and all those ancillary perks and benefits followed. And so did trouble. Terrible trouble.
Most everybody who’s been around the racetrack a time or two knows that Guidry is a great guy and a gentleman. His peers voted him as the winner of the 2006 George Woolf Memorial Award, the highest honor they can bestow. What many people don’t know, or perhaps have forgotten, is that he once came razor-close to losing everything, including his cherished family.
There was a time when Mark was riding in Chicago and even though he could coax the most out of every horse, he couldn’t find the inner strength to stay away from some very bad people who got him into some very bad things.
I know this because with raw candor and brutal honesty Mark told me his story, first when I was writing for The Racing Times and then again when I was Arlington’s communications director. Mark allowed me to tell his story in the now-defunct national daily newspaper in 1991 and then again in a 1993 in-depth feature on him for “Arlington Weekend”, a half-hour magazine format TV show that used to run on Sunday mornings on the CBS affiliate in Chicago.
Suffice to say that Mark once had a drug problem and the word problem is one hell of an understatement. It was so bad that he ended up ruled off the racetrack, the place he loved most and knew best, and found himself working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, doing dirty, sweaty, miserable, incredibly hard labor for long hours while being feasted on by mosquitoes the size of Boeing 727s.
It was so bad that his suffering wife and three children and other close family members were tortured right along with him. It was so bad that he couldn’t stop until he hit absolute rock hard bottom, and then had to fall even farther.
But Mark got himself into treatment and finally got clean, which was a different kind of living hell to push through. He turned it all around and showed everyone, even his biggest detractors, just how tough and terrific he truly is. He earned back their respect, admiration and love. Then he kept proving he deserved it.
He also resurrected his career, clawed his way back to the top and rode successfully for about 20 more years. In 2007 he hung up his tack and the next year embarked upon a training career, and only last year, he decided to ride again. I am among the very many who are happy to see him back in the saddle.
Even though I’ve had access to our sport’s top riders for longer than I care to admit, there is only one whom I’ve ever asked to sign a win picture for me. You can guess who that is. That framed and signed photo of Mark- in the winner’s circle right where he belongs- was displayed prominently on my office wall at Arlington and Rockingham Park and now it’s in my home.
I’ve always considered Mark Guidry a Hall of Famer- both as a rider and as a man. Now it’s official.
Written by Lynne Snierson