You have total amnesia. All
you are told is your name and that you loved Thoroughbred racing, but you don't
know why and cannot recall actually following the sport. You don't even know if
you live in the United States
or Europe. You have to start taking baby steps
and learn to love racing all over again. You decide to spend a year in the
States and a year in Europe and then decide which
racing you like best and where you want to live.
It is now two years later and
here are the conclusions:
BEAUTY - A
big advantage to Europe to start off. The
beautiful, lush grass courses, the maze of white railing, uphill and downhill
runs, and horses, without lead ponies, turned out in impeccable condition, escorted
by well-dressed lads (grooms). Whether at Royal Ascot, Epsom on Derby Day,
Glorious Goodwood, or small tracks like Salisbury
and Bath, racing in England is a canvas of gorgeous
colors and images. And there is nothing as dazzling to the eye as the Longchamp's
magnificent grass course or the vast expanse of the Curragh.
Several of the American
tracks do present spectacular backdrops, such as the San
Gabriel Mountains beyond Santa Anita and the miles of gentle
rolling hills beyond Keeneland, and those tracks with scenic infields, adorned
by lakes, flowers, and a variety of greenery and birdlife. But the racetracks
themselves cannot compare with those in Europe.
And the American horses, leaning on their lead ponies as if they were security
blankets, are not as pleasing to the eye as the Europeans as they ramble down
the stretch after being let go by their lads, striding out magnificently on
their way to the starting gate.
PURITY OF THE SPORT - Once again, the advantage goes to Europe. No medication, standard shoes, strict whip
laws, stiffer penalties, and less tolerance for riding infractions make
European racing far less tainted than American racing and more of a true sport.
By racing on the grass (and rarely is it as firm as in America), you
have much fewer catastrophic injuries. The safety advantage in Europe also is helped by the nature of the sport, where
the horses go far slower for the first three-quarters of the race than they do
in the States.
American racing is going
through rough times, a good part of it due to its image following several
high-profile fatal breakdowns in Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup events. The
inability to determine whether those injuries were caused by the racetrack or
unsoundness or overuse of medication hasn't helped, opening the door for
fanatical organizations to condemn racing and demand its abolishment.
Also, American stewards are
known for their inconsistency. Different rules and tolerance levels apply at
different racetracks, and fans are often left bewildered at some of the
decisions. The British stewards also face the wrath of the public on occasion,
at least has a ruling body (British Horseracing Authority) to regulate the
sport and enforce its rules, which keeps the game consistent. England has had
a governing body for 250 years. Each track and each state in America are
entities unto themselves, establishing their own rules. That has become evident
recently by the vast discrepancies in suspension time for the same medication
violation, and the Marx Brothers-like craziness in California.
And to Europeans, it is
appalling to think that almost every American 2-year-old first-time starter
runs on Lasix, which originally was meant to be given only to horses who had
previously bled. Now, babies get Lasix first crack out of the box. That, along
with permissive medication like Butazolidan, is one of the reasons Europeans
over the years have referred to Americans as "doped-up horses." But it must be
pointed out that every European starter in last year's Breeders' Cup raced on
Lasix and/or Bute, with the first two finishers in the Classic racing on both.
Conduit and Eagle Mountain, one-two in the BC Turf, raced on Bute only, as did BC Mile winner Goldikova.
And England had its
own high-profile drug violation this year when trainer Nicky Henderson not only
had a horse come up positive for a prohibited substance, but a horse owned by
The Queen. He was handed a three-month suspension by the British Horseracing
Authority. High-profile drug suspensions, however, are much more commonplace in
WAGERING/TRAINING - Although no one loves to bet more than the English, who have
bookmakers of all kinds to turn to, and off-track betting was a fixture in France before it came to America, the
American horseplayer still has it so much better than the Europeans. In Europe, you basically have to know the horses and must
rely on published reports from the gallops as to how a horse is training. The
past performances (if you can call them that) in the Racing Post and Paris-Turf
provide little pertinent information to analyze, especially compared to the
morass of statistics in American past performance lines.
In America, where there are
more types of bets, one can decipher all the data and have a pretty good idea
how a race is going to be run - who will be where, how fast the pace will be,
Getting back to training,
American horses are an open book, with their works listed each day online and
in the Daily Racing Form, and in a horse's past performances. You can have a
dozen works listed for a first-time starter, whereas in Europe
young horses are judged by the buzz coming out of the yard. During the Triple
Crown and Breeders' Cup, the media scrutinizes over the works of all the
participants and provide daily reports on how the horses are working. TVG and
HRTV also have works shows each day, so the average fan can watch them on TV and
make their own judgments.
horses are cloistered away in private yards, with the trainer being the
ultimate ruler of his domain. No one gets anywhere near his horses without an
invitation. Works can be conducted over the expansive gallops at Newmarket or on private property, such as Ballydoyle, or
in the vast network of training tracks at Chantilly.
Aesthetically, training at Newmarket and Chantilly is far superior to American
horses training on the racetrack, but the latter provides more knowledge and
information to the bettor and is so much more accessible to the media, who then
go back to the barns and discuss the works with the trainers. Fans attending
"Breakfast at Belmont,"
for example, can watch the works and gallops right next to the trainers who
congregate inside and outside the café each morning. Fans at Santa Anita can do
the same at "Clocker's Corner." This is where Europe and America are
truly separate worlds. From a fan's and a media member's perspective, America wins
this hands down.
WATCHING THE RACE - As mentioned before, beauty-wise there is no comparison, but for the
fan/bettor, watching the race is far more enjoyable in America. The horses are closer to
the fans and easier to see and there are fractions posted to tell you how fast
or slow they're going. American horses have more of a distinct running style,
so you know if they are running their race or a being forced to deviate from
their normal style of running. Horses make their moves at different points in
the race, making for more excitement throughout the running and more strategy.
In Europe, there are races
where the fans in the grandstand cannot see the horses at all early on, or the
horses are so far away (like on the Newmarket straight) they are nothing more
than specks in the distance. Individual horses also are more difficult to spot,
because the fields normally are so tightly bunched all you can see is a cluster
of jockey helmets. It's all about waiting and waiting, and then unleashing your
horse's run at the right time, usually between 1 1/2 and two furlongs out. In Europe, you can often tell the winner a long way out by
how much hold the rider still has on his horse. That happens less frequently in
where horses are able to make long sustained runs and are under pressure much
farther out. Many stretches in Europe are so
long you can't get a good look at the horses as they turn for home. But those
long stretches do favor the European bettors, because horses have more time to
extricate themselves from traffic problems or recover from bumping incidents.
And as everyone knows, European finishes as a whole are much closer and you
rarely see the kind of romps you see in America.
So, all in all, this category
also goes to America.
BEST HORSES --
This, of course, is pure opinion and difficult to say, considering most of America's best horses run on dirt and all of Europe's run on grass. Because of the advent of synthetic
surfaces in America,
it has divided the sport as we knew it, and determining who the top horses
really are has become more difficult. By going from two outlets - dirt and
grass - to three, it has diluted the talent even more, or at least our
perception of talent.
Each place has its core of
super heroes from the past. Each also has its own problem of finding new ones,
due to the early retirements of its classic winners. The days of the true
sportsmen racing their best horses for three or four years are gone. There is
so much money at the upper levels of the sport and such a craving for
multi-million-dollar stallions, racing in America
and Europe has become more of a stopover on
the way to the breeding shed, where new well-bred and lightly raced horses are
churned out to perpetuate the cycle. Like moving in a constant circle, it just
leads right back to where it started. To further their gluttony, some major
breeders in America and
Europe send a good number of their stallions to the Southern
Hemishpere to be bred. Unlike the past, when stallions basically
were bred to 40 mares a year, some are now bred to several hundred.
Europeans can boast of their
dominating record in the Breeders' Cup Turf over the years and their success in
the BC Mile. And now with the one-two finish of Raven's Pass and
Henrythenavigator in last year's Classic over a synthetic surface, you can bet
they will return in droves to Santa Anita this year with horses for both the
turf and "dirt" races. Will America
find another Tiznow to restore its reputation in the Classic?
America returned the favor this June when Wesley Ward took
six horses to Royal Ascot and really stuck it to the Europeans right in front
of The Queen, winning two stakes and just getting beat a head in another - the
group I Golden Jubilee. And he did it with dirt horses. So, let's just say that
the two worlds have become even closer since last fall and call this category a
wash. The Euros are better on turf and the Americans are better on dirt.
- When it comes to being able to see live racing, Europe has a big advantage,
but only because each country is much smaller than the U.S. and fans, especially in England and Ireland, are no more than a few
hours drive or a relatively short train ride to any track. Because a racing fan
from England, for example,
can drive or take a train to the Derby or the Guineas or Royal Ascot, you have to give the
edge to Europe.
So, what is the decision? Do
you go with the sheer beauty, purity, and accessibility of European racing or
do you prefer the vastly superior information provided by American racing,
along with the easier viewing of the races and access to the trainers?
Not being much of a bettor
and interested more in the sport itself and the horses, I think for the most
part I will spend the mornings on the backstretch in America
and then hop in my private jet and go to the races in Europe
in the afternoon. I'm not a jump follower, so it's all U.S. in the
winter. After the Triple Crown, I will spend all my time in England during
the Royal Ascot meet and then catch the Irish Derby. And I can't miss Glorious
Goodwood in July or the King George at Ascot. During
August, I will spend all my mornings and afternoons at Saratoga
(cannot pass up breakfast at Beverly's).
In mid-September, I'll spend most mornings at Chantilly (the most heavenly spot
on Earth for horses and cathartic for humans) and go to the races in England
and Ireland, then return to France for Arc day (nothing like it) before heading
back to America for the Breeders' Cup.
What? You say it can't be
done? Hey, it's only a silly blog. I can do anything I want.