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.
Make a Friend, Keep a Friend, Make Money
LOS ANGELES, December 7, 2014—Tom Jicha stimulated HRI readers recently when he challenged those commenting beneath a column
asking contributors to provide ideas how racing can best market itself.
The usual ideas were recycled: emphasis on sport versus gambling game; age group targeting; handicapping tournaments, etc.; resulting in the usual lack of consensus.
The only old saw missing was "Get the women in and the men will follow."
Actually, tracks haven't done all that much to entice women to enter racing’s emporiums, much less bet on races. The chic Del Mar and Saratoga meets get more than their share of women to attend but their effect on handle is minimal at best.
On-track customers are overwhelmingly male and for many of them racing isn't just about gambling; it's about enjoying time with friends, sometimes with those that also have a life-long passion for the game.
But racing needn’t be limited to either making money or sharing familiar time; it should be about creating opportunities for acquiring new friends in uniquely entertaining circumstances.