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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

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13 Responses

  1. TTT

    Tom, always enjoy your thoughts even though I disagree half the time. Also enjoy the thoughts of Indulto. The virtue-signalling leftist commentary from other contributors here and elsewhere is difficult to read without being drawn in. But as my father taught me, it is better to walk around a pile of horse manure rather than step through it. Looking forward to the remaining racing on Saturday (a man’s got to make a living you know).

  2. Thanks. My wife doesn’t agree with me half the time, too, and we’ve married 53 years.

    I steer clear of politics because it’s pointless to debate on line. No one’s mind is ever changed. I haven’t been on Facebook for three years because I got tired of losing long-time friends. That’s the sad reality of contemporary politics, no matter which side you are on.

    I appreciate your need to make money but, as I’ve made clear the past couple of weeks, I think it is irresponsible of racing to continue while tens of millions, especially in the service businesses, are without their sources of income.

    This, too, will end.

  3. Horses need to be fed, get exercise–lest they hurt themselves in their stalls because of pent-up energy–backstretch workers, who need their jobs, provide this service. The owners pay the bills. Without purse money to offset costs–after first having to earn a piece of that purse–owners will walk away.

    Then what happens to the horses, the people who tend to them, and the tens of thousands of stakeholders who populate the industry?

    An immediate complete shutdown of racing could lead to its demise, period. Only anti-racing activists would be left to celebrate that eventuality.

  4. Human beings need to be fed and get exercise, too. There are a lot of people wondering how they will put food on the table because their businesses have shut down for the public good. There is no reasonable justification for racing, basically an entertainment endeavor, to be an exception.

    BTW, owners are among those now barred from the tracks where the horses they are paying to keep are.

    The horses in Great Britain and France need food, exercise and care and they have owners, too, but they shut down for the common good.

    When this terrible tragedy ends, everything will return to normal–maybe stronger than ever as people charge out of their houses, eager to renew the lives they have had until now.

    1. You mean, CDI, one of Mitch McConnell’s largest contributors, thinking they can strong-arm people without regard to other people who might need to make a living in the Commonwealth, in whatever the industry, that CDI?

      By your logic there is no reasonable justification for the remainder of the entertainment industry to exist; all “industries” are essential, including horse racing and other forms of entertainment.

      BTW, normal, as usually define it, may never come again. Sadly, there’s a lot more pain to come.

  5. Tom: With regard to CDI’s selfish, greedy decision to move the Derby, you could not have said it any better. Moreover, looking beyond just the Derby, they muscled both Ellis and Ky Downs out of previously approved dates, and they arrogantly placed the Oaks and the other usual Derby week stakes in their role as Derby sidekicks. I cannot imagine a more direct attack on NYRA and the Alabama and the tremendous Travers day card. Tom , you have been involved in TV scheduling in the past, query: Why are relatively unimportant Notre Dame games in September so important to NBC? For that matter, if the three TC tracks are “partners” in TC Productions, with NBC, why wasn’t there at least some attempt to coordinate the TC for this year? Finally, NYRA and TSG are allegedly partners with CDI in the so-called Integrity Alliance. Presumably they have had some meetings since last year’s horrific safety issues. I would like to be a fly on the wall when the next meeting of this so-called alliance is conducted.

  6. Framarco,
    The Triple Crown is a partnership only in the eyes of horsemen and the public. Each track makes its own decisions.

    I meant to include the Ellis and Kentucky Downs situations in my piece. This big-footing by CD is the latest example of how the Kentucky Racing Commission is a rubber stamp for whatever CD wants.

    To reiterate a theme, when it comes to any other track, Churchill does not care.

    As for the importance of Notre Dame football to NBC, the network has a long-running partnership with the Golden Domers, which provides dozens of hours of highly rated football every fall. You don’t jeopardize this for a one-time Triple Crown rescheduled because of a global pandemic.

    Unlike Churchill Downs and the rest of racing, NBC tries to work with its partners.

  7. JP,
    Almost the entire entertainment industry has shut down. Cinemas have closed. Movies have halted production. So have TV shows. The casts have been sent home.

    Broadway has gone dark. Concert tours have been canceled.

    There might be a lot more pain to come but I’m an optimist. America always bounces back.

  8. TJ,
    Misuse (or abuse) of the phrase “shared sacrifice” by racing-related voices started on the West Coast. LOL

    While, like JP, I’m concerned your premise that racing deserves no special consideration compared with other sports is not tempered by the fact that equine athletes require constant care including exercise, profiteering must indeed be avoided everywhere.

    Waldrop’s insensitivity, and CDI’s unmitigated gall, aside; this is an opportunity for racing, but one that allows time to focus on restructuring for integrity and uniform oversight once it can resume operations. The unilateral re-scheduling should no longer be tolerated.

    Even with TV-based income, attendance is what drives other sports. Handle (participation, even remotely)
    drives racing. If somehow racing could also fuel funding for fighting the virus, that could help; provided that conducting spectator-less operations without spreading the disease could be confirmed.

  9. TTT,
    The irreverent humor you deign to deposit on these pages, is definitely one of its assets.

    Those who could use a spark of enthusiasm for racing will likely find it at your own website as well.

    The trouble I have with your comments, though, Too Terse Teddy, is the diminutive depth of detail delivered.

    Please cease counting words when next you write here. I won’t ever walk around it. LOL

    Your mutual fan,

  10. TTT

    One of my favorite patrons sent a request for Saturday’s Fair Grounds TTT E.Q.U.I.N.E. Ratings on Friday afternoon, did not complete unti 3:30 a.m. He wrote back words to the effect ” late night huh Ted?” I responded by telling him that neophyte handicappers work from sun to sun, but TTT’s work is never done, and explaining that contrary to what some may think, I don’t just pull the numbers out of my ass. Perhaps a shortage of time has something to do with my parsimonious paragraph placing. Thinking of changing the meaning of my acronym to Enigmatic Queer (unusual) Unbearable Irreverent Non-caring Egotist.

  11. Actually TTT, your EQUINE acronym has already been usurped to represent another far more famous for pulling things out of his @$$:

    Enigmatic Quixotic Unbearable Indignant Narcissistic Egotist

    As you’ve occasionally indicated that your numbers are based on “algorithms,” I was under the impression that you pulled them out of a computer. LOL

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