Con-men call it the bait and switch. The seller shows the buyer a fantastic thing, they agree on a price, and then the fantastic thing becomes something less fantastic.

Theres a sucker born every minute, said P.T. Barnum, a flim-flam man if there ever was one. Having just witnessed the circus in Louisville, fans will be jumping on board the Street Sense express for the next two weeks like commuters on the Long Island railroad.

Horse racing is popular again. Between now and the Preakness Stakes, people will believe that theres a lot about the sport to like. And if Street Sense wins the Triple Crowns second jewel, the rafters of Belmont Park wont contain all the once-a-year fans who demand to sit under them.


It takes the hoopla of a three-ring circus to whip up the latent interest that exists for the sport. The competition each spring is fierce, with the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs to contend with, and this year there was a Mayweather vs. De la Hoya fistfight to distract attention.

Nevertheless, this first Saturday in May, which is always the date for the bait, there was Queen Elizabeth II, a tribute to Barbaro, and a clever rail-hugging ride by Calvin Borel, aka Calvin Bo-rail, to entice 156,635 fans to Churchill Downs and millions more to the NBC telecast.

Now that the first act is over, itll be up to a horse to carry on. And thats when the switch comes.

In recent years, the horse hasnt gone on to become what the publics bargained for. He has appeared like a pigeon in the hand of Houdini, but disappeared as quickly as he burst on the scene, either driven by mega-million dollar economics to the breeding shed or stricken by injury from the grind so that his newly-formed audience didnt have the chance to marvel at him.

So much has been made of the span in years between Triple Crown winners that generations believe that winning the Kentucky Derby is like winning a playoff. The spin doctors can create all the myth possible to make Street Sense another Smarty Jones, Funny Cide or War Emblem the last three charismatic Kentucky Derby winners to raise racing into public consciousness. But if he isnt able to sweep all three Classic races, what is the sport left with?

The bar for greatness has been raised right before our very eyes, with nary a notice. Could it be that society has been desensitized by excess to the point that a brilliant single event no longer has the power to engage our attention beyond what it signifies as a step in a process?

Street Senses dash through the field and Bo-rails tears of joy in the aftermath is the stuff of which legends are made. But outside of Louisville, and beyond tradition-addled minds, the 133rd winner of Americas most famous horse race really hasnt done enough.

Like it or not, the Run for the Roses, to a certain extent, has been reduced to a minor prize in the same way that a conference championship is a prelude to the Super Bowl. By design, or simply poor brand management, horse racings chosen path to bait fans by giving them special events may be backfiring by the kind of switch nobody expected.