Until the Perception of Horseplayers Change, Neither Will Racing
LOS ANGELES, January 9, 2015—The image of that of the horseplayer proved a popular topic for kicking off the New Year. First John Pricci
wrote, "In a culture that will bet on virtually anything--even illegally, if the proposition is popular enough--it is the horseplayer that society holds in low regard.
For many, the horseplayer is a cliché: He is the guy you meet on a street corner, a racetrack, or even in front of a home computer wearing worn out shoes; with silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants, looking like he probably drinks a bit, too.
But it is the horseplayer who is the most resilient of gamblers: You can ignore him, lie to him, cheat him, steal from him and keep him in the dark. But you can count on him, win or lose, mostly lose, he keeps coming back for more."
On the very next day, the New York Times
described Aqueduct patrons as "lonely old men who don’t care much about whether the track is preserved. They just complain about it."
Most "accepted their small losses as the price of a day’s distraction, and the losses of others as a small reward."
"That’s why they don’t care if they lose. ... They gamble for gambling’s sake. They know no one wins."
There wasn't anything new in either article about the ways horseplayers are perceived or the injustices imposed on them by those they allow to do so. The former lamented that self-enabled exploitation; the latter used it to promote its agenda of getting Aqueduct closed.
The Times photo essay amused me because what I saw was a group of seniors still able to get out in the open air under their own steam, and playing with money that likely belonged to them. They probably no longer had to worry about mortgages, educational or medical expenses, and certainly not their next meal. The fact that they all complained about what racing at Aqueduct has evolved into proved that their senses and reasoning remained intact.
For me, however, such characterizations trigger memories accumulated over a half-century of horse playing during which I endured unrealistic and unwarranted concerns, as well as undeserved and unfair criticism, and even condemnation from family, friends and co-workers when they became aware of my interest in the game.
Moving Blue Grass Has Ripple Effect Beyond Keeneland
LOS ANGELES, CA, December 23, 2014—By moving both its Kentucky Derby qualifying races up one week, Keeneland not only has changed the dynamic of the horsemen's path to the Triple Crown, it also may have redefined the sixth most attractive racing day of the year for horseplayers.
While some are split as to whether Derby day or Breeders' Cup Saturday enjoys the widest audience in North American racing, few would disagree two days of Breeders' Cup and the three days of Triple Crown racing are the five most popular of the racing year; Belmont Day--with a Triple Crown on the line--commanding the most attention of all.
It may be that currently “Super Saturday” is the reigning sixth-ranked day of import, featuring championship preps at Belmont Park, Santa Anita, and Keeneland, 10 Grade 1s in all, two more than even Championship Saturday.
A case can be made for Florida Derby Day, the beginning of maximum-point qualifiers determining Kentucky Derby eligibility. The Louisiana Derby and the UAE Derby are also run that weekend, as is the Dubai World Cup, whose $10 million purse making that day's total purses the highest of the year.
Actually, racing at Meydan impacts U.S. racing not only because UAE Derby winners often compete in Kentucky, but because older American horses have had success in the world's richest race in the pre-synthetics era. The return of both races to dirt is likely to increase participation.
For 2014, 120 G1s were scheduled in the U.S., Canada, and Dubai. By moving the Bluegrass [and the G1 Madison] to the same day as the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, that Saturday's G1 total jumps to seven, ranking it third among 49 days of racing on which there is at least one Grade 1, 25 having at least two.
By giving Lexington performers three weeks to recover, Keeneland makes its prep more significant, even if its point total doesn't get adjusted by the Churchill Downs brain trust. This leaves room for the Illinois Derby's return to the Derby Trail--provided CDI is serious about its stated need to improve its image instead of continuing to punish Hawthorne.
As things stand, Oaklawn also would appear to benefit since all eyes on the “Trail” will focus more keenly on the Arkansas Derby, the final “win or place and you're in the big dance” event.
Despite decreasing foal crops, most Derby preps will continue filling to near capacity even when clustered closely together. The main problem, of course, is the perceived inability of today’s Thoroughbred to withstand the rigors of closely spaced races.