View Full Version : PaceAdvantage.com Editorial

05-10-2009, 08:51 PM
Racing industry dysfunction about to reach new heights

Commentary by PaceAdvantage
May 10, 2009

I started today as I usually do, opening up my web browser, whose home page is of course set to PaceAdvantage.com. Like always, I glance to the right to see the titles of the most recent racing-related posts, and what immediately catches my eye is a thread entitled "They Are Gonna Load the Field Up...No RA?" My immediate thoughts, even before reading a single post in the thread, were ones of disappointment and anger. However, I can honestly state that I wasn't the least bit shocked by what I knew I was about to read.

Of course, those participating in the thread shared many of my feelings. Much anger and disappointment filled the pages of the quickly growing thread. The thought of a Preakness without one of the best three-year-olds (male or female) in the land certainly wasn't being greeted with enthusiasm by a fan base just getting over a Kentucky Derby devoid of many of the top prospects because of last-minute injuries.

All of this comes just after racing fans had started to get excited once again. Last week, the announcement of Rachel Alexandra's purchase by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables breathed new life into this year's Triple Crown. Finally, it seemed, a true marquee three-year-old would enter the starting gate for at least one of the three main events.

But alas, this is Thoroughbred racing. One must remember that this is the industry that embraces the notion that higher takeouts are the key to solving its various economic problems. This is the industry that even in the face of widespread public condemnation following Barbaro and Eight Belles, continues to operate under a disconnected patchwork of rules and regulations that differ from state-to-state. Despite over ten years in existence, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association still does not have any real authority when it comes to creating or enforcing the rules of the game. But they do have that cool logo that looks kind of like it belongs right next to the logos from Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association. Regrettably, the head of the NTRA doesn't come anywhere close to wielding the kind of power that the MLB or NBA commissioner enjoys.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise that some of the powers that be within the industry would be looking to RAISE the level of dysfunction just at the moment when the sport is enjoying its annual public spotlight, which this year also happens to include the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Instead of looking to put on the best show possible in Baltimore less than one week from now, we learned today that Mark Allen, co-owner of Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird, was seeking help in trying to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness starting gate. Because Rachel Alexandra was not originally nominated to the Triple Crown, she would be excluded from the second jewel if the race draws fourteen other runners.

Mr. Allen contacted Ahmed Zayat, owner of Kentucky Derby second place finisher Pioneerof the Nile, and a man who in total has nominated 22 colts to the Triple Crown. Mr. Zayat alone seems to have the fire power to keep Rachel Alexandra out. At first, he was quite willing to conspire with Mr. Allen against the talented filly, even offering up these rather questionable excuses as to why it was the proper thing to do:

ďAll these colts from the very beginning have had to compete and go through the regimen and tough scheduling and go from one race to another to get graded earnings, and that puts a lot of stress on them. And in all fairness, she did not have to go through all that, and her previous owners did not even bother to nominate her to the Triple Crown, and then someone else comes in and tries to change the name of the game and the rules in the middle of the game and I think that is unfair. Iím not against the filly running against the boys. Who am I to say that? But I am questioning the two-week interval. Why not give her a freshening and run her in the <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:CITY w:st="on"><ST1:PLACE w:st="on">Belmont</ST1:PLACE></ST1:CITY>? Two weeks for a filly. Does our sport need another Eight Belles? We all know what happened to Rags to Riches after her race in the <ST1:CITY w:st="on"><ST1:PLACE w:st="on">Belmont</ST1:PLACE></ST1:CITY>. We all know what happened to Ruffian. I did not want to have that part of it on my watch."

Your watch, Mr. Zayat? What an odd statement. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Zayat is acting as if no other horse in the history of the game has sat out the Derby to run in the Preakness or the Belmont. Anybody remember Bernardini? How about Red Bullet? Twice in the last nine years we have seen a horse skip the Derby only to win the Preakness. If that's not bad enough, Mr. Zayat invokes the images of Eight Belles and Ruffian. Hell, why not bring up Barbaro and Union City while you're at it and simply keep all of your horses in the barn come Preakness Day, including Pioneerof the Nile. We wouldn't want you to be responsible for another Barbaro or Union City, not on "your watch."

Luckily, it seems Mr. Zayat has come to his senses and he will not be looking to stuff the Preakness starting gate with second stringers just to keep Rachel Alexandra from running (talk about an accident waiting to happen - go ahead and fill the Preakness with unqualified and untalented runners and see what transpires).

However, that hasn't stopped others from taking up Mr. Allen's rallying cry of unsportsmanlike conduct. It has been reported that Marylou Whitney is going to enter a sacrificial lamb of a horse (who as of this writing has yet to be named) in order to try and keep Rachel out and at the same time help Mine that Bird, whose sire Birdstone is owned by Mrs. Whitney.

Think about what is transpiring here for a moment. Here we have one very prominent owner in Mr. Zayat conjuring up images of some of the game's greatest tragedies in order to rationalize his potential actions. Yet those very same actions under consideration by Mr. Zayat and Mrs. Whitney, namely filling the Preakness starting gate at the last minute with second-string runners, will only raise the risk of injury or worse.

How is any of this good for the game? How will keeping Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness help the television ratings, the betting handle, or overall fan interest?

The answer to all of the above questions is simple. Any attempt to deliberately prevent Rachel Alexandra from running in the Preakness will only serve to take the racing industry's massive dysfunction to brand new levels.

The very fact that this dysfunction could climb any higher is just about the only thing shocking that surrounds these latest events.