HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 25, 2021 – Don’t know about your excitement level for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, but it’s a race I’m looking forward to for two reasons:
First, it is one of the more interesting and challenging handicapping puzzles for its depth and quality. Secondly, the betting pools for the Derby and on the day are ginormous.
Unfortunately, this is a pendulum that swings both ways. Since I consider it my patriotic duty to over-bet on Oaks-Derby weekend, especially Saturday, I, like many participants, can either win or lose a small fortune. But the potential reward is commensurate with the risk.
It is for that reason I was surprised by the results of a recent industry online Derby poll. While the plurality of voters indicated that their interest level is about what it normally is, the combined majority had either little or no interest in this year’s race.
Could it be that a spate of negative developments has contributed to the loss of enthusiasm for the sport of horse racing itself? To wit:
How do horseplayers and fans feel about the fact that the Arkansas Racing Commission decided the disqualification of two Bob Baffert trainees which tested positive for lidocaine use last year was much ado about nothing?
Did the Commission cave to the politics involved or were the best lawyers that money can buy successful in their appeal because they were able to find a loophole in the Arkansas’ rules of racing and made the case all about process?
After all, if California authorities could delay Justify’s Santa Anita Derby positive finding until after he won in the Kentucky Derby, why can’t state officials overlook the Arkansas Derby victory of Charlatan, whose positive finding resulted in his losing the testing battle but winning the appellate war?
Were racing’s fans miffed that despite trainer Doug O’Neill’s significant history of drug positives and suspensions, it wasn’t sufficient to stop his Racing Hall of Fame nomination?
Were some non-plussed Derby fans put off by the fact that several star jockeys are refusing to ride at Monmouth Park this summer because of the stringent whip rules put into place by the New Jersey Racing Commission that would bar riding crops?
Or that the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has been trying to head off the implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act before it is instituted next summer?
Fans and bettors just might be thinking that they’ve heard the messaging about transparency and acting in the best interests of the horses and their riders before, but everything they see says otherwise.
As stated on MSNBC’s popular TRMS, “watch what they do, not what they say.”
Sound advice, certainly, but words matter. Positive messaging touts hope, a commodity people cannot live without. But negativity, like bleeding, is leading the headlines. Bad news lingers in human consciousness in the manner good news does not.
Since the pandemic began overtaking the fashion in which Americans live– and for 14 months most news has been overwhelmingly negative–everyone has taken a “just move on” stance, a tack that enables most of us to save our sanity.
So, what does all that have to do with the lack of “excitement” surrounding “America’s Race?”
Routine daily life has become exhausting. Keeping up with Kentucky Derby minutia is no less so. It may be “only a horse race,” but it’s one that’s woven into America’s fabric.
It may not be a national holiday but is a national sporting event to be celebrated and enjoyed, Fourth of July without the fireworks.
Lack of interest notwithstanding, we are willing to bet that there will be more Derby Watch parties than Academy Award Watch parties this year. Talk about apathy; who has seen this year’s movies?
If people had, they certainly didn’t exit socially-distanced movie theaters dancing and singing in the rain. These days, there’s not much joy emanating from Hollywood, Toronto, or anywhere considered a movie-making capital.
Bad news may be the only thing that sells but no one is going out of their way to pay for it. There are no stimulus checks for such luxuries, only for survival.
An aside: Since the Derby points system has been instituted, there has been a virtually unprecedented run of winning favorites. This year the Derby favorite is undefeated, and the public loves undefeated horses. But it appears the population has far more pressing issues on their minds.
Maybe troublesome news, isolation living, and exhaustion even has robbed American horseplayers of their usual enthusiasm for one of the world’s great horse races in a year when there are so many talented runners competing.
Or maybe, since mostly everyone is working remotely these days, there’s no chance of getting lucky in a Kentucky Derby office pool.