A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
The following opinion piece on the Breeders' Cup and the suggestion fans consider skipping the Friday “Ladies Day” program and that Jess Jackson run Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Turf was submitted to the Paulick Report by a longtime California racing fan and an omnipresent online contributor who goes by the pseudonym  Indulto. His guest editorials and comments have appeared on numerous forums and blogs, including journalist Paul Moran's Web site.

 

Indulto shares the frustration of many racing fans regarding the need to maintain multiple advance deposit wagering accounts (ADWs), and he is not a fan of what he calls the “misguided mass conversion to synthetic surfaces” mandated by the California Horse Racing Board.


The views of the writer do not necessarily represent those of the Paulick Report.

 

By Indulto

The decision to conduct Breeders' Cup races formerly run on dirt over Santa Anita's supposedly safer synthetic surface has created a dilemma for some owners of dirt-proven division leaders. Should they accept the risk of experimenting with their equine stars' ability to handle this type of racetrack when it's clear that few horses have achieved success on both? Or should they risk losing an Eclipse Award to a BC divisional event winner with an arguably lesser resume?

Jess Jackson initially claimed to be unaffected by such concerns, and repeatedly dismissed the possibility that Curlin would contest a synthetic Classic. Yet after months of casting doubt that the BC's decision was appropriate, “America's richest racehorse” is now stabled at the scene; scheduled to test his proclivity for Pro-ride prior to his widely-anticipated entry in the HOTY sweepstakes.

Some. including Ray Paulick in his “Well played Mr. Jackson, well played,” are praising Jackson as a marketing genius who has spurred discussion and created public demand for this once unlikely, but apparently inevitable matchup of racing stars on a surface neither has competed on. Others feel his machinations have stifled enthusiasm and lowered expectations for the event by undermining its status. Either way, with a Hitchcock-like mastery of suspense, Jackson has extended his own appearance in the spotlight. It remains to be seen whether he will be illuminated as a showman, a sportsman or something else.


In a press conference four days before Curlin's Jockey Club Gold Cup victory, Jackson's reluctance didn't appear diminished:

“One race doesn't determine a champion. You guys are sold on what the Breeders' Cup has been saying about what the Classic does worldwide for the reputation of a horse. But you have to look at the overall performance of a horse over the year. … But the one race, the Breeders' Cup, should not a champion determine.

“They used the Gold Cup as a prep for the Breeders' Cup last year. This year is pretty tight and had they not changed the surface, we'd have been happy to show up to the Breeders' Cup. But they only had less than four weeks to get prepared this time. So it's not an entirely novel thing to go to the Breeders' Cup for us, we've been there and done that. … And the Clark (at Churchill Downs in November) might be a great way to finish the season for both Big Brown and Curlin.

 

 “The problem (with running 'where the public appetite and interest in the sport is') is, it's an increase in the sport once a year. What we need is a league that shows an interest in the sport year round.

One might now wonder whether Jackson's testimony at the Congressional hearings advocating industry oversight represented convictions more strongly held, and whether there was any substance to his conjecture that he might run Curlin as a 5-year-old under certain circumstance that might benefit the sport.


Why am I holding Jackson's feet to the fire? Because I agree with him that the racing industry desperately needs oversight by a central governing authority. While I don't fancy him a friend of the horseplayer, I respect his having been instrumental in achieving reform regarding the sale of Thoroughbreds. His willingness to race Curlin as a 4-year-old — and to initially resist the BC decision to switch surfaces — suggested he was a man of principle willing to sacrifice the dollar to revitalize the sport. An effective industry governing board will require persons of demonstrated integrity.


The BC as originally implemented was an inspiration. When the “Showcase of Champions” became the crowner of champions based on a single performance against competitors they had never previously faced– under conditions which may have compromised the chances of some contestants — it lost its luster. Last year's farce known as BC Friday has become this year's folly labeled Filly Friday, which has fueled unprecedented negative fan reaction including a boycott-threatening on-line petition.

Handle has declined from its peak in 2003 and attendance continues to defy promotion. Yet industry leadership refuses to listen to its customers who aren't professional players. Racing fans have always wanted to see the best face the best as often as possible, to confirm champions who have repeatedly demonstrated their superiority over their closest competition, and to be able to compare championship performances between generations of both horses and fans.

Today, they crave full, competitive, sound fields to bet on without chemically enhanced performances. They seek a level playing field on which to compete in the pari-mutuel pools for as long as their skills permit and not be sent to the sidelines prematurely by unconscionably high takeout from which only whales get relief. They long to be able to bet on-line on any race at any track through any ADW and watch the race live no matter how remote their location or what infirmities prevent them from being in attendance.

But nothing will change if fans keep opening their wallets to play while owners, tracks and ADWs ignore their existence, much less their importance. The only thing current industry leadership including the BC understands is lack of receipts. The first step in taking corrective action is to not expose one's BC bankroll until Saturday; saving time, energy, and money while sending a message that needs to be heard.

 

We're hearing a lot recently about what a good thing it is to be a maverick. Jackson seemed worthy of that title as a supporter, ironically, of tradition; and restoring the BC's more appropriate role in championship racing. By running in the Turf instead of the Classic, Curlin's master would not only maintain his personal credibility, but would also assume a leadership role in righting racing's course.

Finishing second in his lone turf start — sandwiched between two previous BC Turf winners — Curlin's defeat in the Man o' War appeared to be more a function of riders than horses. Curlin could redeem himself against the returning Red Rocks and add to his Horse of the Year resume in the process. The best part would be that Curlin's fans would be able to bet him with the confidence they would be getting a competitive as well as sporting effort from both horse and owner.


Sign up for our
Email Flashes to get the latest news, analysis and commentary from Ray Paulick

Visit the Paulick Report for all the latest news throughout the racing world

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram