What does Churchill Downs have to do to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that it does not give a whit about racing? The only thing that matters to the casino-oriented corporation is its bottom line.
The announcement of the postponement of this year’s Kentucky Derby was done in characteristic Churchill Downs, Inc. manner. No concern or consideration was expressed for what the Sept. 5 date will mean to the rest of racing, most especially the Triple Crown, the backbone of the game.
You would think there would have been discussions with The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, site of the Preakness, and NYRA, which stages the Belmont Stakes, about how the Triple Crown would be maintained.
This isn’t the Churchill way. The two Triple Crown partners were given only a quick heads-up just prior to the announcement, according to Bill Carstanjen, Churchill’s CEO.
Moreover, Carstanjen made it eminently clear that he didn’t give a muck pit about what Pimlico and Belmont might do or what it would mean to the Triple Crown. “They just have to work it out together and I hope they do.”
If they don’t and there is no Triple Crown this year, no skin off Churchill’s bottom line.
Churchill’s unilateral move shows disregard for more than just the Triple Crown. The Travers, “The Midsummer Derby” that is the most coveted prize for 3-year-olds outside the Triple Crown, is scheduled for Aug. 29, one week before the repositioned Kentucky Derby. Churchill knows that. It doesn’t care.
If the Travers is moved to an earlier date, what will this do to the Haskell? Churchill doesn’t care.
The Breeders’ Cup also could take a hit. If a revised Triple Crown has the customary spacing, the Belmont Stakes will be just four weeks before the Breeders’ Cup. There are some supremely talented 3-year-olds with Triple Crown potential this season.
In the contemporary era of conservative training, what chance is there that a Triple Crown winner, coming off three grueling races within five weeks, would come back in four weeks for the Classic?
If the Breeders’ Cup were in California this year, it could be moved back a few weeks. Alas, it’s at Keeneland, where weather and declining daylight rule out a later renewal.
Churchill doesn’t care.
If nothing else, Churchill’s behavior should open the eyes of those who dream of unity in the racing world. Under the best of circumstances, this is almost a pipe dream. As long as Churchill, whose idea of unity is we’ll do what’s best for us and the rest of racing can react, is in the game, it isn’t even that.
A crisis to be exploited
Rahm Emmanuel, the former mayor of Chicago and Obama aide, is notorious for the meme, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the NTRA, apparently subscribes to this.
In a poor choice of words given the world situation, Waldrop said the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken tens of thousands of lives and destroyed the economy of America and nations all over the globe, “is an opportunity for racing to sell itself to a new audience.”
This opportunity is a product of racing continuing while almost all other sports, major and minor, shut down. The NBA, NHL, MLB, March Madness, NASCAR and The Masters, to name just a few, have done the right thing.
This is in addition to small and large businesses, schools and universities, bars and restaurants. Las Vegas casinos have been shut down for the first time ever. Casinos attached to race tracks have gone dark. Catholic churches have canceled Sunday mass.
For the record, racing has been totally shut down in Great Britain and France, which apparently doesn’t recognize the opportunity at hand.
Waldrop sees “the dearth of sports out there” providing center stage to racing at the group of tracks–Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, among others–still in operation, albeit without fans in the stands.
He noted that without other sports to distract people, who are desperate for any form of entertainment, racing can fill the void and perhaps attract new fans.
Aqueduct had a huge handle last Saturday solely through ADW’s and TVG, Waldrop said. “This points to the fact that if properly marketed, there is an opportunity.”
While this might be true, it would be better left unsaid inasmuch as some might see it as callous to talk of profiting from such dire circumstances.
It’s also not prudent to risk the core racing audience interpreting his remarks as, “we can get along fine without you.”
The phone conference included some puzzling contradictions. While Waldrop was patting on the back the tracks still running, he said it was understandable that Keeneland is taking the other route and closing its spring season. Which is it?
He also said that in recognition of the easily spread virus, it would be best if jockeys and trainers don’t travel as much as usual. But he said nothing about horses, trainers and jockeys shipping into New Orleans for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby and a strong supporting card of stakes.
With the Kentucky Derby moving to September, there is no need for any of the traditional preps to be squeezed into the next couple of weeks before empty grandstands.