Bill Christine

Bill Christine, whose first Kentucky Derby was in 1968, covered horse racing for 24 years for the Los Angeles Times. He covered every Triple Crown race from 1982 through 2005, and also reported on the first 22 runnings of the Breeders' Cup. Bill has won two Eclipse Awards for turf writing, five Red Smith Awards for best Kentucky Derby stories, two David Woods Awards for best Preakness stories and the National Turf Writers' Association's Walter Haight Award and Pimlico's Old Hilltop Award for career contributions to racing. He was part of the Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for its coverage of the Northridge earthquake the year before.

Bill is a former president of the National Turf Writers' Association. He has worked for the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, where he was assistant to the executive vice president, and is a former sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He wrote Roberto!, a biography of the Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente, in 1972. Bill, who lives in Redondo Beach, California, is working on a history of Bay Meadows. Contact:

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Where the Votes Come From

LOS ANGELES, December 1, 2009--For years, we West Coast voters in the Eclipse Awards have been squawking about a stacked deck. This is how the plaint goes: There's more of them than there are of us. Our horses don't have a fair chance because the East has most of the votes. East Coast voters won't vote for California horses unless they have a gun to their heads. California horses are forced to go East and race in order to merit any respect.

Part paranoia, part fact and most parts anecdotal, the geographical breakdown of the Eclipse electorate will be subjected to more scrutiny this time because the Horse of the Year contest is a knock-down-drag-out, much-analyzed, either-or proposition. The impossible choice is either Rachel Alexandra, who didn't race west of Arkansas, or Zenyatta, whose passport didn't allow her past Pasadena. Should Zenyatta be outvoted, I can already hear the bleating: There were fewer of us than there were of them.

I'd like to think that each of the 275 or so voters will just vote for whoever they think was the best horse. Period, no questions asked, no ZIP in the equation. There's no wrong vote this time--valid arguments can be made for both horses. Flipping a coin would be awfully poor form. The second-place finisher won't be a loser, she'll just be the horse who was outvoted. But already I can sense some voters leading with their geographical hearts, and there are also voters out there who will effectively vote for both horses (which is not allowed) by either leaving their ballot blank, or voting for someone besides Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

Because the Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association do not reveal their individual votes, whereas the turf writers have a sunshine policy, it is difficult to definitively pin down how much of a geographical imbalance there is among the electorate. Let's just say that it does exist. The National Turf Writers Association recently published a breakdown, by regions, of its 140 eligible voters. For a suspicious West Coast voter, anyone on the other side of the Rockies is an East Coaster at Eclipse voting time, but the turf writers chose a more exact identification--they broke the country down into six areas. There wasn't just East, there were Northeast and Mid-Atlantic; besides Midwest, there were South and Southwest; only the West was without a partner on the map.

Here's how that breakdown looked:

Northeast: 36

Mid-Atlantic: 16

Midwest: 46

South: 5

Southwest: 8

West: 29

For this exercise, I'm going to consolidate these numbers (and arbitrate here and there) into three regions: East (56), Midwest (55) and West (29). You'll have to take my word for it. If you ask to see my work, I'll scream.

That leaves the Racing Form and the NTRA. Included in these voters are the Equibase chart-callers, and many of them work multiple tracks, which might overlap different geographical regions. But the racing secretaries, part of the NTRA bloc, are from the Thoroughbred Racing Associations member tracks, which break down into 20 East, 19 Midwest and 5 West. Combined with the turf writers, then, the partial totals look like this:

East: 76 (41%)

Midwest: 74 (40%)

West: 34 (19%)

This leaves approximately 90 votes unaccounted for. I'm guessing that most of those, especially those from the Racing Form and Equibase, will land in the East column. When all is said and done, I'd say that the East will have the greatest percentage of votes, followed by the Midwest, with the West a distant third. This might not add up to a fair fight, or an equitable election, but I can't think of a way to fix it. California never did have enough race tracks to level the playing field, and now of course it has even fewer. Que sera, sera.

Written by Bill Christine

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