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Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for ESPN.com, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Monday, June 13, 2011


The Road Ahead


(FORT NELSON, BC – June 13, 2011) I watched the Belmont Stakes on my laptop at 11:30 pm Saturday. It was a replay on twinspires.com. My three buddies, one of whom is dead, were sitting in lawn chairs underneath the roll-out canopy of an RV in the parking lot of a motel in Chetwynd, British Columbia, Canada.

From what I can tell, very few people in Chetwynd knew that the Belmont Stakes was being run. There’s no OTB, not even a casino, in Chetwynd. Horses here are for pleasure riding and pulling wagons around town as a tourist attraction. There is horse racing in BC, but the horse racing’s far away in Vancouver and, for the moment, all attention on Vancouver has to do with the Canucks.

You may be interested in learning about what I was doing in Chetwynd. The town was the seventh stop of a 16-day journey by RV that is taking me to play golf above the Arctic Circle. I chose the spot randomly. It’s about halfway between Prince George and Fort Nelson. In addition, the seventh annual International Chainsaw Carving Championships, a kind of Breeders Cup for guys who turn logs into art, was being held in a park.
None of the three men who were traveling with me – all Americans from Chicago – would have known that the Belmont Stakes was being run, either. Except for me, they would have missed the race and never hear of it again until next June. But an interesting thing happened when I told them I would be watching it. They huddled round with their lawn chairs and we watched together. In fact, we bet among ourselves, like the people do in Dubai or places elsewhere that have no gambling.

What took place is a good example of how anticipation supersedes accomplishment every time. After the two minutes and nearly 31 seconds that it took Ruler on Ice to run 1-1/2 miles, there was let-down. None of us had picked the longshot winner; no money exchanged hands. This Belmont proved nothing, set nothing up for future – will be one of those Classics that recede in the background like the highway we’re driving. I’ll be posting this column, God permitting there’s Internet, from who knows where tonight.

The marketing people at Belmont have to figure out how to make horse racing’s third Triple Crown jewel the beginning of something instead of the end. Until that occurs, NYRA will always be dependent on what has happened in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby. NYRA’s marketing department, as usual, did a terrific job to lure warm bodies out on a wet day for a race that was meaningless and, perhaps, out of sync with the times. But reaction is never better than action. Taking matters into their own hands with a plan that makes the commercial success of the Belmont less susceptible to the past would be smart.

As for horse racing in general, what has longshots in three Triple Crown races wrought? Well, the answer is a division of three-year-olds that nobody really cares about. Ruler on Ice might win another big stakes, but it’s likely to be in mud. He was second in the Tesio (ho-hum) and ran at Sunland Park. The 5-2 favorite Animal Kingdom took a beating at the break, dropped way back of a slow pace and made a run like a freight train before running out of steam. He’s a turf horse.

Shackleford, incorrectly identified as The Derby winner’s rival, is a miler, no matter what Dale Romans says. So, too, is the reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, provided he races again. Dialed In is the Travers winner. Nehro, a chronic also-ran. Are there any others of note on the murky horizon?

It would be fun to be a bug on the wall in the Breeders’ Cup offices. Having a star to promote your event provides you a leg up. But, right now, at least, there doesn’t seem to be any available. If you think the three-year-old division, the main source of Breeders’ Cup promotional currency, is weak, then you probably believe the handicap division is bankrupt. If the Breeders’ Cup was smart it would send representatives to England today to talk the owners and trainers of Royal Ascot runners to plan ahead for Louisville this November .The unbeaten Frankel, of course, would serve ideally to sub for Zenyatta as publicity fodder. As of now, nonetheless, what the Breeders’ Cup has is Goldikova – that’s it.

This journey I’m taking, called “Our Longest Drive” has its end in Inuvik, 100 miles north of The Arctic Circle where we’ll play golf at midnight of the summer solstice – June 21. At first, I was leery about scheduling the trip at a time when the Belmont as run. Although I can see now, it shouldn’t have been a worry. This is not to downplay the efforts made by the winner, participants and presenters – they all acted admirably, considering the circumstances. But the circumstances were such that isn’t much to get excited about when the ranks of good horses are thinned and there’s scant evidence those who remain have a future worth following. It’s a down year.

On the other hand, the wood carvers in Chetwynd are living proof that it’s possible to make something from nothing. There’s still time, I suppose, for something exciting to develop. I just don’t see it.

Vic Zast is on Our Longest Drive. He’s making a documentary about a road trip by four men, one of whom is dead, who drive by RV to the Arctic Circle to play golf at midnight of the summer solstice. Go to http://www.ourlongestdrive.com to follow their adventures.

Written by Vic Zast

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