The good news on this Friday is that Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella appears to have pulled it off, getting commitments from the owners of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated two-time champion Zenyatta to contest the Apple Blossom Invitational, which is being moved from April 3 to April 9 at the Hot Springs, Ark., track and will carry a $5 million purse if both compete.
But that's just one race, and it is hoped the two champion distaffers will face each other a number of times before the year is over. How can racing, an often dysfunctional industry, pull off this even bigger challenge?
I have a proposed solution to this challenge, whether the Apple Blossom dream match comes to fruition or not.
Remember when Barack Obama was campaigning for president and promising to deliver on health care reform, in part by avoiding backroom deals and pledging transparency? He said the negotiations for legislation could be televised on CSPAN. Well, we're 13 months into Obama's presidency, and that promise was broken. It was business as usual in the nation's capital as legislators, lobbyists and the Obama administration went back and forth on health care, winding up with separate bills in the House and Senate that are unlikely to be reconciled with enough support to be voted into law. He should have stuck to his promise.
Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, has been an advocate for transparency in many aspects of Thoroughbred racing in the few years he has been active as an owner. But Jackson, in a press release issued on Wednesday night in which he said Rachel Alexandra would not compete in the Apple Blossom on its original date of April 3, admitted that he had been secretly working behind the scenes with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to come up with a series of races between his filly and Zenyatta. Those talks were taking place without consulting with Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, trainer John Shirreffs or his wife Dottie Ingordo, the racing manager for the Mosses.
Jackson, according to sources, has been pushing for three races, with purses ranging from $3 million to $5 million for each race. I thought Jackson was keeping Rachel Alexandra in training for the benefit of the sport, not for the good of his bank account. In my opinion, this is not the way to get a deal done that's in the best interests of the industry.
So here's the proposal.
Instead of backroom deals, let's negotiate this racing series in the light of day. More specifically, on racing's version of CSPAN—either TVG or HRTV. The two racing networks can bid for the right to televise the negotiations. Of course, we'd want the races to be televised on more widely distributed networks.
We'll need a tough facilitator with some experience in racing, and I've got the perfect candidate: Tom Meeker, the former CEO of Churchill Downs. Meeker is a former U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel who did three tours of duty in the Vietnamese conflict. He's a no-nonsense leader who speaks his mind. Meeker has just returned from Haiti, where he assisted in logistics for a surgical team sent into the earthquake ravaged nation by Thoroughbred owner and breeder Earle Mack, a philanthropist, businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to Finland for President George W. Bush. Come to think of it, if Meeker can't serve as facilitator, perhaps Mack could. The lives he helped save in Haiti would call him a miracle worker.
Racetracks and associations interested in luring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would be required to put together detailed written proposals for a race that include the two champions, along with their plans to promote it. Each proposal would be accompanied by a non-refundable deposit of $50,000.
The money from the rights to televise the negotiations, along with those non-refundable deposits from tracks would all go to a racing charity chosen by the connections of the horse that does best in the head-to-head matchups. (Update: this proposal is not for match races of just two horses,)
The facilitator would lay out all the proposals to Jackson and the Mosses and their respective advisers (limit of three, please). He would then put on a pair of brass knuckles, lock the doors, and not let anyone out of the room until an agreement is reached on where and when they will try to meet—all while the cameras were rolling.
Racing has a rare opportunity to make something very special happen in 2010. Please, let's not allow this one to slip through our hands.
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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