By Keith Pettyjohn — Over the last few weeks we have heard lots of talk about how television ratings are way down for baseball, basketball, football and hockey. The amount of viewership this summer is far below where they were previously. Horse racing was no exception.
Obviously, business had to be down with little to no fans in attendance. Further, it’s the first time in history that the four major sports were playing at the same time. So the competition for viewership has been fierce.
Yet the four majors have done a great job of coordinating when games take place and which ones will be broadcast, not so racing.
The Sport Of Kings has not done such a good job of working together for the good of the industry. This past week there were 26 Graded Stakes Races run at different tracks. That’s a lot for a non-Breeder’s Cup weekend.
Adding insult to injury, several of these major races were taking place at the same time in different parts of the country, making it extremely difficult for bettors.
Surely, some of these races could have been rescheduled to a different weekend or during that same week, a nod to the horsemen and bettors who would not have had such near impossible of maximizing competition viewership.
As it stands right now, horse racing has lost over 1,000 racing days to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. That results in a loss of almost 8,000 races.
When there’s a chance to showcase the best horses and races in the country, the industry needs to do a better job for itself, the fans and the players.
I realize the difficulties the industry faces and it’s not all doom and gloom as many think. With three-quarters of the 2020 season in the books, betting handle stood at $8.35 billion, down slightly from last year’s $8.59 billion.
When you consider the handle reached this level with virtually no one in the stands with lost racing days and fewer events, the industry fared very well.
The Big Weekend Delivered Some Great Performances
This past weekend we were treated to 26 graded stakes. Thirteen received a grading of an A- of better and 13 ran triple-digit Performance Ratings or higher. Let’s take a closer look at two of these races.
The Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park earned an A++ rating. It’s only the second race this year that a horses earned such high honors for the speed, pace, field size and quality of competition.
Interestingly, the other also was a turf race, the G2 Mac Darmida at Gulfstream Park in February. Both winners, Channel Maker and Zulu Alpha earned Performance Ratings of 109, the highest figures earned this year.
Last, but definitely not least, comes the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. It was only the sixth time in 145 years that a filly has been able to beat the boys in this classic.
We salute the connections for a job very well done; trainer Kenny and jockey Robby Albarado’s masterful handling, taking the battle to Authentic and gutting out a hard fought victory.
When we dive into the numbers, we see that the race rated an A+ with the winning performance figure of 107. Taking that figure into consideration, a closer at runnerup Authentic.
His effort in the Kentucky Derby earned him a 108. His narrow defeat here in the Preakness earned him a 107, so he ran his race. But Swiss Skydiver moved forward in a big way.
The filly’s previous best efforts were a 100 in the G1 Alabama at Saratoga and another 100 for her defeat in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. So this was a major forward move. The race was an instant classic and has been viewed a quarter of a million times.
So when we look back at the major horse racing weekend and take into consideration what’s going on in other major sports and the world itself, maybe we horseplayers can be a bit more generous and have some appreciation for what we have.
MAKING THE GRADE: Week of SEP 28 — OCT 4
A++: Joe Hirsch
A+: Preakness; Shadwell Turf Mile
A: City Of Hope; De Francis Dash; Dinner Party; First Lady; Kelso Handicap; Spinster; Woodford
A- Beldame; Phoenix; Pimlico Special
B+: Belmont Derby Invitational; Black-Eyed Susan; Gallorette
B: Belmont Turf Sprint; Chick Lang; Miss Preakness; Thoroughbred Club of America
C: Alcibiades Miss Grillo
C-: Bourbon Breeder’s Futurity; Gallant Bloom
D: Pilgrim Stakes
Winning Performance Figures Sep 28th – Oct 4th
Channel Maker 109
Factor This 108
Swiss Skydiver 107
Mo Forza 104
Diamond Oops 100
Harper’s First Ride 100
Wet Your Whistle 96
Miss Marissa 95
Juliet Foxtrot 93
Wicked Whisper 90
Frank’s Rockette 86
Simply Ravishing 83
Plum Ali 79
Essential Quality 78
Fire At Will 70