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