Several Racing-Twitter fans were more than annoyed after surveying last Saturday’s simulcasting landscape: To paraphrase:
“I was looking forward to handicapping the all-stakes Preakness card but there were big races at Keeneland and Belmont I was interested in. It was just too much, not enough time. This is what’s wrong with racing.”
Well, yes, competition and not cooperation has long been the industry standard. But in 2020, Belmont Park, Keeneland and the Maryland Jockey Club deserve some slack on this.
After the tracks were forced to either delay or cancel their spring plans due to the Covid outbreak, all were forced to reschedule and in our view did the best they could under the circumstances.
Lack of on-track handle kills purse accounts at all venues. But while the tracks suffered, the sport in general and ADWs in particular reaped the handle windfall made possible by increased television exposure and lack of sports programming.
One can argue rightly that horsemen bring tougher times on themselves because many of their organizations leverage legal and political clout to demand bigger slices of the pie: Give us what we want or we’ll stop your simulcast deal in its tracks!
Just like the 2020 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Day business was down precipitously. Pimlico handle Saturday was $51.2 million with three fewer races, compared to $99 million in 2019.
Oh, and live attendance was down by approximately 130,000 people.
Belmont and Keeneland put on prestigious “Breeders’ Cup Prep” programs, with more to follow this weekend. That’s normal. What’s not is an October Preakness run four weeks later than the Derby, two seasons after the Belmont.
By “new normal” standards, the Maryland Jockey Club did not fare too badly.
SET THE 2021 RACING MEET SCHEDULES NOW
As above, the glut of competition Saturday could not be helped. But the industry can and must set the tempo for 2021, starting the day after Breeders’ Cup. There is no excuse for not acting ASAP.
Whatever happens between now and late spring is of no real consequence with respect to the normal racing calendar. For planning purposes, the assumption going forward must be that the pandemic will be with us until the end of 2021.
Haven’t at least 60% of us, endowed with common sense and an inalienable right to live, learned that it’s better to be safe? Does racing want politics to impact its judgment? Isn’t it better to plan for continued fan-less racing and adjust to positive news thereafter?
For heaven’s sake, super-tracks need to talk to each other. Realize what the other has and trust in your knowledge of how horsemen will react. Throwing money at purses is what has been working. Does anyone have dollars to spare right now?
Be creative and mindful of what the other needs. In the end the sport wins. So do fans and bettors. Maybe smaller programs could be carded on those big weekends so that everyone gets a sizable slice of pie.
Coordinating post times on big race days is more important than ever. (Are you listening, post-draggers)?
HRI suggests, for the umpteenth time, that U.S. tracks use the European model. Make the first race the 1:00 o’clock; the second race the 1:30; the featured eighth the 5:00 o’clock:
Belmont goes at 1 PM; Pimlico 1:10 PM; Keeneland 1:20 PM. Bet and repeat.
Fans will know set times as races are now branded. And run punctually except when interrupted by inquiries, atmospherics, power outages, etc.
This is a far from rocket science, which is good since 30% of the country believes that science is a hoax. So simplify this small, entertaining part of our lives that have been kept us somewhat sane as we soldier on.
Later, Lengthened Triple Crown a Better Series
As a traditionalist, I say let tradition be damned.
The 2020 Triple Crown produced an extraordinary Belmont Stakes performance, abbreviated trip notwithstanding, that set the stage for a barn-burning Kentucky Derby stretch duel.
And the Preakness? Well, Pandemic Preakness of 2020 belongs in a Triple Crown Time Machine.
These great performers rate to have a profound impact on next month’s Breeders’ Cup to come, wherever Preakness-winning filly Swiss Skydiver lands. On Saturday she went from a hickory fast, throw-back filly to Thoroughbred superstar.
I questioned whether Kenny McPeek was overly aggressive, throwing his filly to the wolves. Now I can’t say for certain that she doesn’t rate a chance to run in the Classic, which McPeek said he is considering.
On Saturday, Robby Albarado and a 3-pound sex allowance made all the difference. The next morning she wasn’t tired, said McPeek, adding she cleaned her tub Saturday night and Sunday morning. She’d get five pounds vs. older males at 1-1/4 miles, not an insignificant factor.
Spacing matters. And for those who believe otherwise, note that on balance fields for the last two legs were deeper and stronger than it might have been in a five-week series.
As for degree of difficulty, there were three different winners in a class that is not bereft of talent.
No wonder Bob Baffert was saying during Preakness week that in Authentic’s case, two weeks would have been preferable because “the others wouldn’t have the time to catch up.”
When Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in 1977 World Series Game 6, he was crowned “Mr. October.” When Derrick Jeter hit his walk0off home run, he became “Mr. November.” When “Broadway Joe” made good on his guarantee, it was January, not February.
Schedules change, as 2020 has proven. So how about something sensible and timely that helps racing’s glamour division and, by the way, is better for the horses, especially for 2022 three-year-olds who will enter the Louisville gate raceday-medication free?