Courtesy of Becky Johnston
Okay it's time to stop. No really, just stop. I was one of those people that swore that
Easy Goer was the best horse in America in 1989 and that Sunday Silence was just lucky. I look back on that now and wonder if
I had lost my marbles. How I ever
made that argument, even to myself, is a mystery now.
Certainly, I still think Easy Goer
was the second best of his class and both he and Sunday Silence were two of the
best I've ever seen, but Sunday Silence was the more adept of the two. He never needed to carry his track with
him. He won three of their four
meetings. His problem was that he never
won in New York.
Easy Goer's fan club had their
excuses why he didn't win the other races.
It was said that if someone spit on the track, Easy Goer would not run
on it because he detested the moisture in the track. The turns should not be too tight for his
crooked legs either and that one post in the Classic caused him to duck inward
at the start, costing him that race.
If Sunday Silence had not been
trained by the great Charlie Whittingham, you have to wonder if Easy Goer could have been reasoned
into a championship?
I feel free to speak of this
because I was one of them. I too was
swept up in the East Coast Bias for many, many years. Now that I'm exposed to California racing by
TVG and HRTV I see it very clearly and artificial racing surfaces are just
another way to discriminate against West Coast racing. There will always be something.
You must admit, it is rare that
the powers that be in horse racing allow a horse to win a championship unless the
horse has won in a state that was a part of the union when George Washington
was President. This easily encompasses New York and Kentucky. The only reason Florida is in the mix is that the East Coast Bias needed a warm
place to winter. The rest of the year,
it is recognized for what it is, too far south to be part of the East Coast
Amazingly, Florida was the second choice.
Cuba was the winter Mecca of racing. They received the winter racing, backed by
New York Gaming interests, cousin to the East Coast Bias.
It took some work from a few
pioneers to get racing up and running at Tropical Park and Hialeah Park. Then they tried to
extinguish each other. This particular
way of doing business is not exclusive to thoroughbred racing, but I can think
of no other enterprise that does a better job of it. "How best can we shoot ourselves in the foot"
must be the first item on the agenda of every board meeting across the
When I became a horse racing fan,
I thought little of the fact that Forty-Niner would not be making the trip west
for the Breeder's Cup, because it was too late in the season. Now, I
have heard all the arguments about not running your two-year-olds too early, but
it wasn't a snowy day in late December at Aqueduct. The first weekend in November, under a sunny California sky, hardly seems a hindrance. But that was East Coast Bias and the
championship was wrapped up.
By 2003, the Breeders' Cup had
become such a centerpiece of racing to show the world our beloved sport, that
you felt sure no connections of a healthy contender going for a championship
would think of missing the race. But
that is exactly what Mr. Will Farrish did with Mineshaft. He knew he had the Horse of the Year honors
sewn up before the first cool weather hit Kentucky. So racing fans
missed out. They would not see the
healthy Horse of the Year run on the biggest day. You can win a championship by just running in
New York, but that is exponentially more difficult to do in California. I don't really
blame Mr. Farish, I blame the East Coast Bias that let it happen.
California has done an honorable thing and no matter what you believe
about handicapping the races or anything else, you have to think that the folks
in California did what they thought was best for horse racing by
installing a surface that would lessen catastrophic breakdowns of the sport's
four-legged stars. Certainly, it has not
eliminated the bane of horse racing, but even the most die hard observers must
admit that another summer like Del Mar of 2006 was going to be hard to explain away. I know I tuned
The old saying "no good deed goes unpunished"
is alive and well. Sportswriters are not
going to vote champions out of the Breeders' Cup this year if they have only
raced on synthetic tracks, but if they have only run in New York and skipped the biggest date on the calendar they are not
ruled out. What's wrong with this
A good horse is a good horse and
if an owner wants to run a horse over a safer surface, as WinStar Farms has
done with their Colonel John, is it fair to punish them by discounting his
synthetic race wins? Is it fair to vote
a champion that excels at Belmont only?
Sure he won the Travers at Saratoga, but
if he had stayed in California and won the Pacific Classic would he just be another plow
horse to those same voters?
All the talk after the Derby was that he could not handle a traditional racing surface,
but he ran a good race with a bad trip.
He certainly disgraced no one.
Never mind that Hollywood or Santa
Anita were never the same tracks as Belmont at any point. A horse could
have a dislike for those tracks just as much as synthetics or visa versa. The discrimination against west coast racing
is as old as the first race ever held on the left coast.
It has always been something. From Sam Riddle believing Seabiscuit inferior
because of the geography. That argument of
class grew into the surface is too hard and fast and made false
performances for front-running speed.
Now, they are too slow and
soft. Somehow, I don't think New York's
Goldilocks is ever going to find a place to run in California that would be juuuuuust right if she found a track laid in
When a California-native like Jess
Jackson has to have his arm-twisted to run in the biggest race in our country,
which happens to be held in his home state of California, something's not quiet right. What is the second worst thing that could
happen? He could lose? That wouldn't be a possibility in France
or Japan or New
York? Isn't horse racing about challenges?
To sun this up, I don't buy all
the synthetic track shtick. If the California
"powers that be" pulled out the synthetic tracks and put down the finest dirt
tracks ever established, there would be some other reason to discredit California racing. That's just
the East Coast Bias.