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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

AVOID PREAKNESS DAY GLUT, SET 2021 SCHEDULES NOW; LATER, LONGER CROWN BETTER

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.”

Precisely.

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?

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

14 Responses

  1. Looks like a very fair commentary to me. The Triple Crown races have all been good. The super cards against each other add a little trouble for the bettor. Spacing as you have suggested seems like common sense. Actually knowing the post times for each race every day would be a positive. If racing could keep horses running an extra year or two that would be great. Two things to really clean up is the late money and the drug problem. We’ll see what it happens.

  2. Just seems to make sense as you suggest, Aaron. I feel very strongly about branding races at each track, especially so that bettors don’t get caught in tape delays and get shut out.

    But also agree that late money and illegal drugs are major issues, especially the latter…

  3. More time for the equine participants to mature with a delayed later dated Triple Crown series would be awesome, and the added prospect of all entered being free of race day medication is all the reason in the world needed to by pass tradition. The two positive steps that would greatly benefit, and could possibly even save the sport. We are challenged often to leave our world a better place for the next generation. As far as thoroughbred racing goes, we need not look a fraction of a furlong past common sense to protect the sport.

    1. “… we need not look a fraction of a furlong past common sense to protect the sport.”

      McD,
      Your eloquence exceeds expectation, but how can the “sport” confidently make major changes to TC spacing until Lasix use reform has been accomplished?

      1. It is scheduled to happen. Next year, no 2YO will be permitted to run on Lasix. The year after that, they turn 3…

        1. JP,
          Even though I’ve been lost in the fog for some time now, I know that staggered lasix termination has been reconsidered recently, but who are the authorities that have agreed to finally implement the plan which has been on again-off again several times? Is it still being contested by any state horsemen groups?

  4. I think the racing industry should set their schedule as they would any other year for 2021. With the speed of the vaccines which will be available before the end of this year, there is no reason to have a doom and gloom outlook. Here in Nassau County, where Belmont only averages few patrons during the week, and only slightly more on weekends, opening to the public would have been a safe bet this fall, as Nassau county has held a 1% positive infection rate for the last 4 months. If the patrons follow protocol along with all the others, racing will be able to function normally.

  5. OK, a few separate issues Mark. Agree that at a 1% rate, some attempt could be made to allow some fans in, bet by phone, benches 12 feet apart–increase someone wanted to root loudly, and if clubhouse open, social-distance seating. But that’s probably up to the Governor, not NYRA.

    My message was not doom and gloomy, it was a nod to reality. I’m not buying the vaccine propaganda of this lying administration–end of this year does not allow time for sufficient controlled study. Everyone I talk to, on both sides, said they won’t be first on line to get inoculated, waiting a few months to see how it goes.

    The regular schedule can work, no issue with that, but the time has come to extend Triple Crown spacing. As trainers found out, and one as prolific as Baffert admitted, and as Tagg has hinted, not so easy. And whatever the opinion, there is no major disagreement on whether or not it would be good for the horses.

    Thanks for checking in; long time reader first time writer?

      1. Thanks very much for your long-time support — but I think I must be doing a bad job if you were only interested to comment but thrice.

        Guess I’ll just have to work 14-hour days, instead of 12, to get you engaged more regularly…

  6. John: While I think that your proposal warrants discussion, there is a rather large impediment to any significant changes in the Triple Crown schedule, to wit, the business interests of the three entities involved. As we just observed, CDI unilaterally changed the date of the Derby, without any meaningful discussion prior to the announcement. Both NYRA and TSG were provided a “heads up” about 12 hours prior to CDI’s press conference. Is there any other professional Sports League that would conduct its business in such a slipshod manner? Of course not. John, there is absolutely no chance that CDI will consider changing the date of the Derby ( I mean in a ‘normal” year).
    Would TSG consider moving the Preakness a week or two back? Possibly, but I do not think that there is any chance that NYRA would be interested in moving the Belmont to a July 4th, for instance. Unlike the other two companies, NYRA is a Not-for-Profit, without any source of supplemental income ( save for a “handout” from Genting-I will never call it “Dole” because the Big A grandstand was sacrificed for those slot machines). Belmont Day is NYRA’s cash cow, outside of Saratoga, and business would suffer if it were moved by even a couple of weeks.
    John, if you were the Commissioner, and you could order the three TC entities to follow your plan, then it would make sense. Otherwise, the Big Three will do what they do best, to wit, Fight with each other for a ever diminishing slice of the horse racing pie. Its no coincidence that we, the racing public, are being used as pawns in the Big War amongst the three TC entities. We have NYRA/CDI & Fox vs. TVG/TSG/Del Mar & Keeneland. Last weekend, I was in the NYRA Cash contest. There is nothing more annoying than having to constantly change channels between MSG+ and TVG. Once upon a time in America, we had no audio or video, while waiting for racing results in a NYCOTB parlor. I know that what we have now is infinitely better than what we had then. However, in 2020, being used by these powers, in their TV war, is not very pleasant.

  7. Fram, as far as my Triple Crown suggestions, I see this as a their problem, not a my problem. I suggest what I think is best for the overall and future health of the sport, just as I did many years ago with my anti-raceday medication commentary. Some things work, some things don’t. It’s about wanting to then working the problem. Too often, this industry lacks both.

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