Why Racing Must Tell Its Own Story

By Kevin Stafford, The Aspiring Horse Player

"this is the way the world will end

this is the way the world will end

this is the way the world will end

Not with a bang, but a whimper"

-T.S. Eliot

 
Could Curlin's retirement finally prove that thoroughbred racing needs to do a better job of telling its own story?  I've looked ever since the announcement was made - and the general reaction among news outlets (including "sports" outlets such as ESPN) has been not even a whimper.  Indeed, the first $10 million horse in U.S. history fades into retirement and is not even worth mentioning, yet Notre Dame struggles to defeat the Naval Academy and I've managed to see those highlights umteen thousands times already.

What gives?

The truth is its nobodies fault but our own. And by "our own" I mean everyone involved with horse racing. We operate inside a model that currently ONLY awards fame and recognition (and indeed mention to the outside world) when a Kentucky Derby is won.  The Preakness has value as the world is watching to see the Kentucky Derby winner repeat, and if (and only if) he/she does, then the Belmont becomes an extravaganza.  If, however, the Preakness is won by a different horse than the Kentucky Derby - so long public "care."

We saw this with Curlin.  Street Sense was the best known three-year-old from that amazing crop of 2007, despite the fact that Curlin defeated him twice (Preakness and Breeders' Cup Classic) in the three head to head meetings. 

This year a relatively unknown 3-year-old (Big Brown) rose from obscurity to national prominence by making his run at the Triple Crown. He won the Derby, and with that won fame and recognition.  Indeed, heading into the Breeders' Cup Classic he was arguably more well known to outsiders than even Curlin.  When he was injured and taken off the Classic trail, it was news repeated in print, on radio, and on television around the world.

And yet nary a word about Curlin's retirement.

To me it's a slap in the face that Curlin receives no coverage - yet it's also a clarion call to the sport in general - and I HOPE they are listening again!

When we went to Las Vegas and pitched the online marketing task force agenda, my major theme was "Take Back Saturday."  Some laughed.  Some scoffed at the notion of achieving any sort of notoriety - but many more agreed and saw the value in "telling a continuous story from the Triple Crown to the Breeders' Cup" by focusing on our marquee Saturday racing.   That is, after all, when "most" of our Grade 1 races occur.  By securing time slots on networks like ESPN and promising to deliver that which we already have - namely compelling, top-flight racing action every Saturday, we could help do many things including making bigger stars and househould names out of our best horses.

Curlin would've been one to benefit from such an initiative.  Sadly, part of his legacy will always be that when he returned from Dubai as a champion in his initial U.S. race, the Stephen Foster, it wasn't even televised to most of the homes in the U.S.

That, my friends, is an error we must not repeat ever again.  We owe it to these guys. They deserve to be in a position of greater relevance when they retire.  This is a story horse racing should WANT to tell.  It didn't end in injury, tragedy, or death (unless you consider Santa Anita's Pro-Ride "tragic" for Curlin).

I hope you guys are still listening over at the NTRA and beyond.  I think Curlin's retirement just made the best case for "Take Back Saturday" we could possibly have.

53 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Pollas

Horse racing just doesn't interest the general public nowadays except as an occasional side-interest.  They are much more interested in football, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, etc.  I'm afraid horse racing won't ever be as big as it ever was in the past.  It's just not going to draw in the same crowds that football, baseball, and basketball do.  Horse racing will have to work on drawing in more fans while being realistic about the numbers.  (I know those who avidly follow racing and bet on it won't like it, but if its going to gain a bigger audience horse racing will have to focus more on the animals and connections and distance itself more from the gambling side of it.)

Why would the general public care about a racehorse retiring?  With the exception of the most well-known athletes, the public doesn't pay much attention to athletes of other sports that retire.  I think it's just a bit arrogant to expect the mainstream media to pay a lot of attention to a horse retiring while sports like college and professional football are going on.

21 Nov 2008 3:54 PM
DONNA

 Yes I couldn't agree more that no news meia has covered the retirement of Curlin. If a Nascar driver or football star was retireing it would make sports headlines.

 My greatest disappointment though is the fact that Curlin is being retired to Lanes End Farm where he will be shuttered away to only prospective breeders and the racing elite who will have the privlidge of seeing him because Lanes End does not offer farm tours to the general public. I never got to see Curlin in person so I guess I'll never have the chance now being a racing fan only. To bad Jess Jackson couldn't have stood him Claiborne or Three Chimneys where the racing fans can go and see the horses and take pictures with them. So to me in an unfortunate way Curlin will be out of sight out of mind and that is tragic.

21 Nov 2008 4:08 PM
Doz

Oh, I have to disagree.  There are many who care about racehorses; their lives after racing, their connections, their trainers, as well as all of the caregivers.  It has to be very difficult to let go of these beautiful creatures when they retire.  Not only am I interested in Curlin, I am interested in the feelings of all those individuals who care for Curlin and who will miss him.  It has to be a thrill to take care of such a wonderful horse, and it has to break their hearts the day he is loaded into the trailer for the next phase of their lives.  I believe the public cares about all of it, and I am disappointed that not much is written about those very important people in Curlin's life who love him and who will miss him.  

21 Nov 2008 4:15 PM
marc W

I have and still love the game. That said it is not special anymore. Racing is year long and way too many tracks around the country.Simulcasts and wagering sites whether legal or off-shore have made going to the track a thing of the past.

Not only good horses used to bring in the crowds, the claiming game has changed -now it is rent a horse. In the old days owners/trainers would keep their horses over the years. I remember if a trainer was down to his last horse no one would take them. Is that ever a thing of the past. With that in mind there is no such thing as laying a cheap horse up to get him right again-why you just will lose him if you do?

In these days you see some trainers winning at 20 to 30% which was unheard of except by contract trainers for big breeding operations/farms. Now you get 6-5 betting on a horse that was claimed by certain trainers even if they are doubling in value.

Racing used to be shown on TV by food supermarkets to promote business ---match the card you got while shopping with winning number on the racing show. There were lots of movies that involved horse racing good or bad. Racing was in front of you all the time.

Last but not least there used to be characters at the track-touts, jockeys that were household names-ask any average people if they know who Edgar Prado is? In the 1950's you knew who Eddie Arcaro even if you had never been to the track. Man O War--everyone had heard of him and he was born/foaled in 1917. Forget Curlin, the names of Seattle Slew and Affirmed are not known today except people in the game and they won triple crowns.

50% of tracks live today by handouts of casinos and slots. Like the auto, banks, and companies looking for hand/bail outs today in our financial downturn of today's world-maybe we should let the weak die out. Put successful and strong products on the market and business will return-never to the level of the past-but it will be "special" again. Not the watered down state-bred garbage races that dominate most cards in racing today.

21 Nov 2008 4:27 PM
A Canuck's Comment

Kevin:

You are so right! This amazing horse is being allowed to fade into history without the fanfare he deserves.

I hope his foals, when they reach racing age, will kick everyone else in the proverbial butt. Curlin is an amazing champion and so underrated. Shame on those who have not given him his due! Kudos to Lanes End for bringing Curlin back to stand with his daddy. He will make everyone eat crow! Thanks to Steve Asmussen for grooming, looking after, and sharing this wonderful fellow with the rest of us. A job well done, Steve. I know you will miss him.

21 Nov 2008 4:28 PM
Adele Maxon

I'm afraid Pollas has it right on. Everything that was said is the unfortunate truth.

21 Nov 2008 4:28 PM
fatjoe1

espn..hah!

they opt to show a sir-putt-a lott

championship-instead of the sunshine millions one year

and that was jerry baily's last ride day..

it's time for all the tracks to get together and allow the signals for major races to be shown EVERYWHERE!

21 Nov 2008 4:33 PM
Jon

What makes you think Racing should be on TV on Saturday when the ratings are pitiful. Broadcasters will put on what sells-Football, baseball, NASCAR, even MMA sells more than racing right now.

21 Nov 2008 5:13 PM
rff

News of Curlin's "offcial" retirement is, to say the least, anticlimactic. I trust this point doesn't need elaboration. Those who may miss his racing days should be heartened by the fact that he retired presumably unscathed-note the demise, today, of Shakis who was preparing for his final start before going to stud. Until we find better means to protect these athletes I, for one, breathe a sigh of relief with each retirement...Unlike most sports, thoroughbred racing avails us the priviledge of witnessing several future generations of our sport's heros. It is this relative novelty that should be emphasized and publisized to the general public.    

21 Nov 2008 6:28 PM
Kim

So many great horses have been retired without notice: Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Invasor, Lava Man, Rags to Riches, and most recently Curlin.  No headlines, no news story, no nothing except for a few sentences in font size 12 in the local paper.  

21 Nov 2008 6:34 PM
CRob87

I agree with the notion of "Take Back Saturday" and so far I do agree with most of what everyone else has stated.   Although, I also believe that we will "NEVER" be able to compete with Football, either college or pro.

I also think that the so called "Powers That Be People" of this industry just simply don't have any vision on which direction to go in.

So...here's a couple of ideas to chew on.

1)   Create simpler bets or bets that offer more chances to win.   Not everyone is looking for a challenge.

2)   Night Racing, Night Racing, Night Racing.   You can't expect people to come to your business while their at work.   Help them get interested during the week so they'll "WANT" to come back on a Saturday.

3)   Create a Reality T.V. series using the top Jockeys, Trainers and Breeders along with some of the celebrities who've already endorsed our industry.   (Personally I "HATE" reality t.v., but it must be working or it wouldn't have lasted this long).

And 4)   Update and Renovate.   When modern day families are considering where to spend a Saturday afternoon, do you really think they'll choose an old, dirty, cold, rundown, concrete grandstand with too small of wood or metal seating ???

Just a thought.

21 Nov 2008 6:35 PM
funnycideoflife

Donna-Lanes End DOES offer tours for the public. I went in 2006 and took pictures with Saint Liam and other greats, and I just checked the website, and it said that they give tours. So yes, you can see Curlin.

21 Nov 2008 6:52 PM
christy tate

unfortunately, those that say horse racing won't be as popular as it once was are right,but it's not just for the reasons listed, the deaths of horses like barbaro and eight belles are also to blame.

21 Nov 2008 6:52 PM
Hawkeye

We are all aware that every trainer and owner wants to win the Kentucky Derby and now also a Breeder's Cup.  Most of us will never be able to afford a sale yearling or two year old in training.  Most of us watch for years and get a big thrill out of seeing thoroughbreds compete.  Not being a bettor, I have often wondered how many who follow the races actually spend their hard earned money on a gamble rather than sitting back and just enjoying the thrill of a race? There is more politics than ever in horse racing and it stinks.  Sometimes we have to look back and see what used to work that we tried to make better and all it did was loose fans for the tracks.  Long gone are the two mile races and because of dollars too many young horses are pushed before they are ready.  Sure, along the years we have had special horses that not only had great endurance but speed.  Now it seems that we push for speed and shorten the distances.  Frankly, I don't need to see all the "dress up" at the Derby.  I am there to see the horses in all the races and to observe how the grooms, trainers, owners, jockeys and other stable personnel care for their charges.  Every animal is an individual with their own personality.  I hate to see even the meanest of them get hurt but it does happen.  Racing got bad publicity when Ruffian broke down and it was worse this past year with Eight Belles. (I didn't note any really bad publicity when Go For Wand and George Washington were injured, and Barbaro's injury was treated as it was an unfortunate accident with a lot of publicity of the good care he was receiving) Again politics and money.  Organizations who know nothing about the sport (and I am still calling it a sport) make assumptions.  Between the Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup fanfare all other racing is put aside.  If we don't start promoting racing again as a sport rather than a gambling institution and do more for all the wonderful races we have besides the BC and TC, we aren't going anywhere.  I used to be able to turn on the TV and watch a lot of racing.  Even in black and white it was better then than it is now. Just give a $1,500 claimer any day and I will enjoy that horse as if he was a millionaire.

We are in trouble and it isn't only horse racing.  During the Olympics I had a terrible time trying to find good information on the equestrian teams.  We even have a champion harness horse this year who has been amazing.  Most people will say "Dewy Who?"

21 Nov 2008 8:26 PM
Oglala Sue

As soon as the Breeders' Cup was taken off network television and put onto ESPN you had to know the sport was going to be watched by fewer and fewer people.

I can't see horse racing making a comeback to get, say, actual regular airtime on ESPN.

Instead, my hope for racing's future is if specialty channels like TVG or Horseracing TV are made available to more people through more accessible cable and satellite television packages.

It seems we're in an age of specialization anyway, so why not with television coverage if we aren't getting what we want?

I'm not saying dump ESPN - I'm saying do more to embrace the TVGs of the world and help them go more mainstream.

Channels like these are already doing a good job of telling our story....(TVG did an outstanding job with the Bluegrass broadcast)...we just need more people to hear it.

Right now, I'm willing to pay for channel 600-something, but I question whether everyone else is ready for that.

21 Nov 2008 8:37 PM
Dreamer's Mom

marc W-I don't know where you race, but where I try to make a living, racing doesn't get handouts.  Nor do we have "watered down state-bred garbage" races.  We get one state-bred race a day and our state-bred horses aren't junk.  Whether you meant to or not, you just offended a whole slew of folks that try desperately to make sure their state-bred horses can compete anywhere. They can't all be Curlin, but that doesn't stop us from trying to breed one!

Anyway....we have to try to open the door to people outside of our little world.  Those of us inside racing seem to stand around wringing our hands when someone says we have to market our sport better, yet no one steps up to do anything, because when you get right down to it, most racing folks really don't want "outsiders" poking around in our world.  I don't know why.  I spend a lot of time banging on doors letting people know about our world.  I bring people to the barn to meet the horses.  I want them to have a rooting interest.  I want butts in the seats!  That is our "hand-out"-a bigger handle!  

21 Nov 2008 8:51 PM
Karen in Texas

I think part of the "problem" is that the initial announcement was that Curlin would not run in 2009, but that he might run again this year. That's in addition to the closed bid process and receivership through the courts to establish ownership of the remaining 20%. It was not clear that he was, in fact, actually retired. For the sports news media to report on a probable or tentative retirement does not really make sense. Today's announcements by Lane's End, Will Farish, Jess Jackson, and Steve Asmussen seem to indicate that he will not run again and is now actually retired. His connections will certainly have a void in their lives. He will be missed greatly by those of us who loved his racing presence.

21 Nov 2008 9:23 PM
Mole

I have to admit, I never even heard of Curlin until way after the Derby and the Preakness and after Big Brown hit the tracks. All i heard about for a long time was BB,and that's why i am such a BB fan. He showed heart and determination. I have to agree, BB is more and has been more popularized than Curlin, I think it is because Bb was in the most famous three leg races-the triple crown races. I do wish Curlin well. I wish all of them well.

21 Nov 2008 9:24 PM
Karen in Texas

Donna,  Lane's End has an open house for breeders and the public--I think twice a year. You can check their website.

21 Nov 2008 9:51 PM
STEVE STONE

Hello Kevin.. I certainly do not see the racing industry going out with an bang or even an whimper whatsoever..However what I do see is that its very own existance is sinking slowly and slowly into the abyss and now the industry itself may be in an intractable position.. You noted it perfectly well in an earlier paragraph in this op-ed piece stating that racing has no one to blame except racing itself..Truer words were said in jest..The answer is essentially very simple..Television..television and television..Turning the teletimer back to over 60 years with the advent of the tv industry..racing never embraced it for an myriad of reasons vis-a-vis other major sports and they are now paying an heavy price for it today..racing..sadly so..resisted change then and for the most part resists it today..that rationale still continues..Its an industry of intransigence..Thinking that the major national print news outlets and in many instances large dailies in major markets across the country are going to cover an story about Curlins retirement let alone racing racing itself..save perhaps the Triple Crown and Breeders'Cup events is absolutely absurd as they are rachetting down their sports staffs..and in many instances shuttering themselves all resultant in this economic upheaval that we are experiencing..Advertising space  revenues which sustain these publications have plummeted to alltime lows..Staffs are being appreciably reduced and there is no one to even cover racing as they are now doubling and tripling their staffs..Racing is not an major priority..Always has been relegated to the back pages of newpapers sports sections.. This regretttably will not change..Again..whose fault is it?Its going to take the industry itself to finally see the light of the day and start agressively pursuing network tv vis-a-vis the cable subscribed ESPN'S of this world to get that messaage out...With todays economic soft landscape..to say the least...I am wondering to myself how many subscribers they are going to lose when their cable subscriptions are due for renewal...Why pay for something when you can get if for free?..The bottom line here is that if the industry doesn't get its long overdue act together forthwith and start thinking out of the box and start embracing the mainstream tv industry..which it should have done decades ago..then when racing fans do indeed turn on their tv sets to view racing coverage..whatever it may be......they are going to see snow on their screens vis-a-vis the running of an race(s)..What does it take to finally wake up?.. I ferventy hope thats its not to late..Thank you always for your kind window..Regards...Steve Stone..East Hanover..New Jersey..

21 Nov 2008 10:25 PM
russell maiers

I agree with your article. The Kentucky Derby is about the only race in America that still draws in new fans. People I deal with at work or play are so interested, they love the way I can name, well most all, the Derby winners or Breeders Cup winners or Melborne Cup winners and so on. These people cannot even catch one commercial on ESPN leading up to the Breeders Cup and that is pretty much all they watch. The few that may catch one little announcement of lets say The Breeders Cup are so excited, they go like saying "hey Russ the Breeders Cup is coming up" They ask questions like whats the deal? Do those Derby horses have to face the older ones now? Isnt that kind of hard? They are so interested! but back to your article, we do nothing to give them the chance to jump aboard. We are getting the safety thing better and that was a huge turnoff, now if we spread the word on T.V., radio, newspapers in the form of advertising it would become what it used to be here and is in Japan, Europe, Australia and others. Looking at all the sports, all the table talk and work talk is about statistics. Horse Racing is the king of statistics, we eat it up and so would all the future fans. Look at the movie Sea Biscut or even Dreamer, everybody I know seemed to watch these, and loved them. I never had so many questions and comments about horse racing around the time of those movies. Bottom line its just my opnion and my opinion is we dont give the rest of the people a chance to love horse racing. So yes I totally agree with your article and Curlin reminds me of Ferdinand excluding Ferdinands final days which were some of the darkest in horse history. So I will leave with this. I ask sport gurus whos the highest paid athelete in sports? Then I tell them about Storm Cat and how without endorsements he totally kicked but on Micheal Jorden or Tiger Woods salary and explain how at 600,000 a pop and over one hundred mares covered in a year, well do the math. They absolutely love this stuff and want to learn more and more. Its there, are we really willing to share it?  

21 Nov 2008 10:43 PM
Brigitte

Racing used to be the only legal form of gambling and you went to the track to do it. At the track you saw the horses, owners, trainers and jockeys  in the paddock, post parade and winner's circle. It was gambling with some personal involvement.

Now we have a racing product that competes with the Casino gambling product. Handicapping a race is much harder than playing slots or roulette or even blackjack. Is it surprising that racing is not the dominant form of gambling?

People still respond to horses independent of gambling. Remember the public involvement with Barbaro's fight for life? There is no casino equivalent. Promoting horses as athletes and personalities can bring people in. The Breeders Cup is on the right track with the "Road to" races leading to the Big Day.

Will it work? A longshot.

22 Nov 2008 1:16 AM
dailyimpact

the game is only attractive at the elite level, but at that level only oldtimers with artificial tan and ugly ties compete. everyone can become a football player, but only the small and rich can play the jockey or owner game. this why stories of Funny Cide attract people, and Curlins not.

22 Nov 2008 2:27 AM
Will W

"What gives" is that the media is so put off by the "industry" and greed of this so-called Sport of Kings that they have been lulled into indifference as to the fate of truly great race horses like Curlin. They expect their interests to retire them ever so prematurely to make a buck off them in the breeding stall. The media knows that they'll never see great horses like Curlin, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, et al, develop into an iron horse - a great handicapper like the Damascus', the Buckpasser's, the Dr. Fager's of the recent past when thoroughbred horseracing had an endearing fan base who loved to see horses of this quality compete through their prime and not disappear to the horse farms in Versailles, KY.. So why should anyone be surprised if the media chooses not to give the retirement of a HOY like Curlin any play. They see through the owner spin that makes grand pronouncements like that which accompanied Curlin's demise from racing to stud duty and choose not to give it any coverage. After all PR releases like "I'm proud to announce" Curlin is retiring to the breeding stall to never be seen on the track again just doesn't attract any reader interest. It's rather dull and expected news greeted with indifference and does nothing to enhance  media ratings. Now, if the story was Curlin to take on Commentator in the Clark Handicap and to return to Dubai and the Grade 1 trail next year that would create real excitement and listener/reader interest and get real play on the airwaves and in print. But a  "proud to announce" statement of a retirement to stud duty is real dullsville and is understandingly ignored.

22 Nov 2008 3:47 AM
Stephen from the NW

I can't believe that just the triple crown races can draw interest from the average sports fan. If they will watch untested yet extremely talented horses over a six week period, think what a class of proven individuals with quirky ownership who do not follow script would do. These days of news by the numbers could prove to benefit the unexpected. Let us promote it and They will come.

22 Nov 2008 8:02 AM
Draynay

Racing is getting what it deserves.... nothing. Curlin ran at 4 which was nice but other than his Dubai performance his others were less than stellar.  Big Brown won race after race and crushed the best 3 year old horses from around the country and then beat older horses on turf... he was amazing.  However, most die hards talked about how wonderful Curlin was and how Big Brown was nothing special.  Amazing... you guys dig your own hole and then when it rains can't figure how to get out.

Enjoy the mud.

22 Nov 2008 8:05 AM
Kevin Stafford

Thanks for the comments all - I appreciate the ones that disagree just as much as those that agree.

A couple of points, as this seems to come up whenever "take back Saturday" is discussed.

The general idea is this:  Yes, right now we our barely worth mention and only newsworthy during the KY Derby/Triple Crown chase.

The question is, what to do about that?  Resign that we'll never be able to do better and give up?  Or try to do something about that? I for one prefer the latter.

The idea isn't an arrogant one that assumes we'll ever compete successfully with football or larger sports.  Far from it.  The idea is that we already do compete with them (consider when Breeders' Cup happens on the calendar - right smack dab in the Saturday College Football Season) - so we've got to find a way to do a better job if we hope to survive.

So what do we do?

Well, seems to me if you want folks to care (and here I'm not talking about the fans we already have, I'm talking about the next generation that we aren't doing such a good job of nurturing into fans), then we have to give them a reason to care.

How to do that?

Make the races mean something. The average 20 something has no idea how/why the Stephen Foster, the Clark Handicap, the Bernard Baruch, etc should matter.

Why? Because we don't make them matter.  They aren't accessible, and we don't tie them into a larger story.

Some will rightly point out that those races will never matter much compared to a TC or a BC race - and that's absolutely correct - but we can still give off the aura that they matter more than they do currently.

Consider how absolutely worthless pre-season Top 25 polls are in College Football. Where were Alabama and Texas Tech ranked? Conversely, where was Clemson? The point with those things isn't that they actually have any relevance, it's that they get people talking and they get them excited.  

We can do the same, but it's going to take a number of changes.  Take Back Saturday is about making our top level racing action more accessible. Make sure people can find it at the same time every week - much like we all know Sunday at 1PM EST is NFL kickoff.  

Believe it or not, the networks like ESPN actually WANT that kind of guaranteed niche coverage. Yup, that's what 'makes me think racing should be on tv Saturday" - they actually want it. The problem is we've just never been willing to pony up the up-front cost for it. We've got to look past the short-term (cost) and more to the long-term (overall return) in order to grasp the big-picture.

Also, comparing current ratings is moot in my opinion because they just further exemplify that we've done a piss-poor job of telling our story at present. Why would anyone watch what we put out there now?  You either have to already be a fan to know it's on, or just stumble upon in randomly.

If you show it consistently, and if you market your best product (namely, the major stakes that occur across the country each Saturday), then you give yourself a fighting chance.

Tell the story - explain why it matters - make it accessible - market our best product - these are all common sense things to do. Not only that, they are absolutely necessary at this point in time if we want to have the marginal relevance we enjoy today after the passage of 25 more years.

Hopefully that's something we can all agree on.

Anyway, like I said - appreciate the passion from both sides. And believe me, having struggled to come up with actionable ideas that could work, I agree - the challenges are many and often appear insurmountable, but I refuse to accept defeat. I just love this game too much to do nothing.

22 Nov 2008 8:24 AM
Amy

Jon,

Why not put it on Saturday?  The big races would not be competing against most college football due to the timing of the seasons and people can't watch what they are not given the opportunity too. Nascar, football, baseball etc. had to start creating fanfare somewhere and TVG can only play certain tracks and is a little overwhelming for someone who is new. Something has to be done. What is the harm in trying to create the publicity and fanbase that other sports have?

22 Nov 2008 9:19 AM
darlene

I cant wait to go to Lanes end and see Curlin this summer I hope he has a long and happy life there he deserves it. I also hope his foals are champions like him and even if they arent they are loved. But what will happen to Pancho? Pancho has been by his side all the way now will they be seperated? I hope they let him go with him to Lanes end.

22 Nov 2008 9:45 AM
NY Falcon

okay, how long has  this sport been around , hmmmm longer  than baseball, fotball,nascar, well golf maybe,, my point is , do not  fret  we are not  going to fade  away or  go fleedingly. racing  needs  to reinvent its marketing  stragites  and embrace the  advantges it it will have on the better, breeder, trainer, and resell its  self to  the new fans.

but keep all the  tradtions of  saratoga  and  the history  thay is  what makes  our sport so different , yet so  great!

22 Nov 2008 9:50 AM
Perplexed

I'd guess 90% plus of the general public have no idea who Curlin is and thats not due to a lack of information in this day and age. Its because racing is irrelevant to the general public and as racing's core fan base continues to age there's zero reason to believe that will do anything other than deteriorate. What can we do to change that? Sadly, nothing, racing will continue its long, slow fade into obscurity.

22 Nov 2008 10:26 AM
smarie

Most of horse racing's problems are caused by those involved in racing. There has been plenty of press lately on all the negatives - breakdowns, cheating, drugs, suspensions, racehorse slaughter, etc. If racing would clean up it's act, it would help. One of the reasons that people don't follow racing like they used to is that there aren't any superstar horses for them to follow. Promising 3 year olds are usually retired and hustled off to the breeding shed. The public loved Seabiscuit, Native Dancer, Citation, and horses of yesteryear who raced longer and were in the public eye much longer. You'd be surprised at how many people haven't heard of Curlin. He didn't win the Kentucky Derby. Lots of folks don't watch the Breeder's Cup. If the public is largely indifferent to racing news, the sports media won't cover it.

22 Nov 2008 12:06 PM
CRob87

Kevin Stafford:

Good point about races such as the Stephen Foster, Clark Handicap and Bernard Baruch needing to matter.

It makes me wonder if Horse Racing should develop a "Point System" similar to what Nascar has ???

Something like 5 points for a Grade 1 win, 3 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd.   And possibly 7 points for a Triple Crown and Breeders Cup win since they are the most popular.

This way the general public "Could" actually follow the races after the Breeders Cup.   And if, if and if the Horse Of The Year honors actually came down to a couple of points difference between lets say Curlin and Zenyatta (as it seems to be the case this year), then Jackson might actually feel the "Need" to run Curlin again in 1 of the races named above.

22 Nov 2008 4:00 PM
Majella from Ireland

The point system is a good idea. But they introduced something similar over here for jumps racing. It never had an impact but then again, jumps racing (National Hunt racing) was always  extremely popular anyway. National Hunt racing is slightly more popular than Flat racing in Ireland and its a similar story in Britain.

But overall I think racing is dying out globally, especially in America. I find that really sad because I'm only 15 and when I'm older I think racing will be a very obscure sport. Something has to be done to make it popular again especially among younger people.

22 Nov 2008 5:10 PM
Cheryl G.

I do have to agree with you for the most part. I am a HUGE fan of Curlin, he's all over my space page, my face book, I have gorgeous Bloodhorse photos of Curlin. I am a huge Curlin fan and people do tend to jump on & off the Curlin bandwagon, I've noticed that from Curlin's early career. Jess Jackon, Curlin's majority owner attempted to do everything in his power to help save the Horse Racing industry, but the other's in the industry have to want to give, the way Jess has done. Some have, but many haven't.

Unfortunately, it's been a very difficult last couple years, beginning with Barbaro's breakdown. We also are in an economic recession/depression.

I for one will miss Curlin horribly and do feel more should have been made of his retirement.  

22 Nov 2008 5:52 PM
barb

I am saddened by the lack of coverage racing gets. In my local paper there was no coverage of the Breeders Cup on Fri. or Sat. just a tiny recap of Saturdays racing in the Sun. paper(and NO mention of Zenyatta). I remember when Wide World of Sports was on almost every week showed racing(of course they had Jim McKay and he probably had something to do with that). I agree with the whole points thing, wasn't there something like that in the early 90s? Also the only advertisements for racing that I see are DURING racing "shows". Why don't they show racing ads during poker? Those fans are gamblers and might be interested in a new game. I have seen commercials about horse racing that are so good, emotional and uplifting, but only when I am already watching racing...how can those ads attract new fans if they only preach to the choir??? I like the idea of a reality series with jockeys and/or trainers(and it's ringing a bell...like I may have heard something about that happening), I think people would eat it up, people would love the danger and the excitement. Not to mention how much the general public LOVES animal stories and racing is FULL of amazing animal stories. After Barbaro was put down I was flooded with condolences from everyone from the grocery checker to the guy who delivered my bookshelf just because they knew I was a fan and they wanted someone to say something to. My friends treated it like I had a death in the family, not because I was upset about it but because they were upset and I was the only racing fan they know to discuss it with. And so that let me know that people DO care and would be interested if they had racing available in a more accessible manner. I watch TVG all the time but find that most people think it's the TVGuide channel. I don't know what the answer to getting the industry on the same page is but I am afraid for the sport. I live in a town with a track...it runs Sun, Mon and Tues during the wet,cold winter months and is not in the best shape for attracting folks out for a day at the races. I much prefer my annual trip to Del Mar. They do very little advertising and few promotions so I can understand why noone goes. Horse racing captures your heart it's not just a game. I wish I knew a way to make more people get it. It would help if the owners got more interested in the majesty of it and less interested in the money. For the top horses most of the owners are seriously wealthy anyway. Instead of only seeing the horses as breeding prospects I wish they saw them as racehorses. And raced them. Maybe a return to some of the "old" ways would help(alot). Things like racing the horses more frequently, how can you be excited about an athlete that you only see every few months? I think the top horses are under-raced now. There are many opportunities for the owners to make money AND fans by racing more often. Also there should be more focus on the fillies and mares, someone(s) mentioned not many people knowing Curlin and/or Big Brown this year....well NOBODY outside of racing knows Zenyatta and that is a damn shame. Many years the female crop is excellent but the industry does nothing to promote the f&m races. Nothing. Also many American trainers NEED to get over their "thing" about racing the girls with the boys. It is perfectly fine and can make it extra exciting.(2007 Belmont! I nearly peed my pants!) I am glad to have this blog to share my passion and am gratified to see others with the same passion. I hope the industry can get together and figure out a way to put racing back into the spotlight for more than just 2(3,or if we get lucky 5) days a year. I can see that we are all willing to help :)

22 Nov 2008 5:58 PM
Myrna

Join Thorofan and let the industry know what you want.  It is a wonderful upstart organization.  Go to their website thorofan.com and read the articles.  If you like what you see join.  Please join, we cannot change the industry without its fans.  They will have a voice through Thorofan.

Read the article about Tin Cup Chalice and Marilyn Lane's columns.  You will love them.

22 Nov 2008 10:07 PM
Lee

Media coverage in the US for any equestrian sport is terrible. Even though there are more recreational horses than ever. I know many people who would watch if the programming was there.

Curlin being retired isn't really big news. Seems like every good horse is retired so quickly.

Big Brown's name is catchier and his connection to UPS also was news so makes sense that more people would recognize his name.

I have TVG but never watch it. I find it very confusing and seems to focus on betting. I do like their Legends series but there are too few of them.

I miss Wire To Wire.

22 Nov 2008 10:39 PM
Charlie

When I was growing up, the feature NYRA race of the week was on TV in our area every Saturday, and continued on with Florida racing in the winter.  Kelso was like a Saturday matinee star - with a great supporting cast.

   I think maybe all the racing and horse associations should get together and sponsor a prime time, old time western series - some of them used to be able to show the horse - human connection in a way that people responded to - helped people learn to like horses and think they were cool.  When I was young everyones father or grandfather had some hands on horse experience and probably thought they were an expert and told you about it.  Not many have those kind of connections today.

  I don't think I've ever known anyone who spent any time working on the backstretch that wasn't drawn into the sport and fascinated with it - but not many get that opportunity, and not many grooms can become owners.

23 Nov 2008 12:13 AM
dailyimpact

first,get the perspective right. as a matter of fact, the majority of class horses live and compete outside the us. today, those facts can`t be hidden as maybe thirty years ago. europe, australia and the near and far east are on everyones pc. the dubai thing for instance maybe offering the richest purse, but the quality of the race is substandard compared to other international races. the result is that Curlin's record becomes highly questionable with this one race. this does not escape those who understand the game. outside your shores, 3 year olds meet elders on a regular and highest standard basis - King George XI, GB Baden, Champion Stakes, Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup. these are the races that make stars. so, the story to be told in the us must be one with true competition on the track and not over the microphone.

23 Nov 2008 2:59 AM
Kevin Stafford

Lots of good stuff here guys - keep the comments flowing and make sure you are also sounding off over on Alex's blog at the NTRA.

Regarding the point system - that's actually one component of the online marketing taskforce agenda we came up with earlier this fall.

We just called it "standings."  It's something the TBA (Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance) already champions and most of our bloggers display standings on their web pages.

Again, it's admittedly rather gimmicky, but is it any less gimmicky than a top 25 poll in College Football?  Think about it, who cares who was #'s 1-10 on week 8?  The only week that matters is the first week in January.  But, what it does do is give the networks something to hype. A "top 5 matchup" (such as the blowout in Norman, OK we saw last night), etc.  

That's what it would do immediately (especially when paired with an aggressive tv "Take Back Saturday" campaign from Spring to early Fall), and in the long-term who knows - it might even have effects on breeding (that's a bit of a stretch, but it is theoretically possible).

Bottom line is this, I remain convinced our sport has what it takes to capture people's attention.  God knows it did for me, and I was a die-hard football fanatic all my life (born in Alabama, if that tells you anything).  There's just nothing that compares to this. And I've seen firsthand that when folks are introduced to a positive first time experience with horse racing, the typical response is something like "wow, I never knew this out there!" Or, even worse, the only time the were aware of us was during an Eight Belles/Barbaro moment.  

That's why we can't let the Mike Lupica's of the world or the Bob Costas' of our world tell our story for us.  We need to be out in front telling it ourselves, making sure it's the best story we can tell, and then making sure it's accessible to folks to help nurture and grow a new generation of fans.

Won't be easy - but it can be done. At the very least we can do a heckuva better job than we are doing now.  

23 Nov 2008 10:38 AM
catnip lane

Hawkeye - I know who Dewey is!  I was at the Red Mile this year to watch him race multiple heats to win the Kentucky Futurity.  It was a great afternoon of racing and its a shame that no one knows his name either....  but Standardbred racing is even lesser known than Thoroughbred racing.

23 Nov 2008 11:11 AM
Calvin

If the sport of racing is going to survive, it needs to re-acquaint itself with 21st century fans.  

For years, the sport has prided itself as "The Sport of Kings," while the average fan embraced other sporting events, racing did little to market itself to a variety of demographics.

For instance, why is their no Madden "Triple Crown Racing Video Game," these platforms have a tremendous impact in attracting new fans to your sport.

21st Century Marketing, our sport needs it like yesterday!

23 Nov 2008 11:16 AM
CRob87

Lee:

Good point about "Wire To Wire".  

I used to love that show also, but forgot all about it since it's been so long since i've seen it.

23 Nov 2008 3:31 PM
joe

What a difference a dozen years make; I recall the hoopla over Cigar, more about the unbeaten streak than the earnings record.  The morning after Curlin's JC Cold Cup either GMA or Today carried footage of THE race-THE race being a midwest county fair pig race.  I believe the overpaid suits running (ruining) the tracks and "industry" organizations are on a genius level with the private jetting Detroit execs appearing before Congress this week.  I've attended the past six Belmonts in a row.  With the top two year olds being purchased for foreign training I'm losing interest in next spring; maybe there's another Funny Cide or Smarty or BB out there to spark my-and the public's-interest.  Riva Ridge first sparked my 18 year old attention, and the glorious Saturdays-Wide World/CBS Sports Spectacular-fired it in the days of Secretariat-Slew, Affirmed-Alydar, Forego...on an on.  I now find my interest in the sport-oh!...industry-waning now, to my sadness and confusion.

23 Nov 2008 4:45 PM
barb

Lee, TVG does focus on the gambling/handicapping and it can be confusing with all of the different tracks but they are also fans of the sport and give great commentary. I was also somewhat disgruntled when I first started watching(over 3 years ago) as I am not a big gambler but am a HUGE fan of the sport and will watch $5000 claimers with as much enthusiasm as a G1 stakes race. And with TVG I get to know the lower level horses and their stories too. I suggest watching it for a while, get to know their style and pretty soon you will like it. I used to LOVE ESPN for their coverage of racing (I still miss you,Chris Lincoln) but now I tend to watch TVG (or HRTV) for all of the chatter and only turn to ESPN for the live race. That is on the rare days they show racing. So I hope you give TVG another shot and HRTV too.

23 Nov 2008 5:06 PM
Jamie

Well said, Kevin. It's depressing to me that horse racing can have huge accomplishments going on right now, and nobody talks about it outside our circle of horse people. I noticed in the Breeders' Cup coverage (why it was split into two different simulcasts? that probably didn't help ratings) the mentioning of the "first steroid-free BC" along with touting the Pro-Ride... which don't get me started on how much I hate synthetics. But anyway, I can see someone trying to pull people in, but the negative outweighs the positive in the public eye. Some major damage control must be implemented in order to ease the memory of Eight Belles's and Barbaro's breakdowns in the public consciousness. Even broadcasting more stories on network TV about how these horses aren't just money-making machines, but valued living creatures would help public perception. As a turf writer, I have seen the reactions to people when I tell them what sort of articles I write about. Almost the first thing they say is "I don't like horse racing, it's cruel." We need to destroy this perception, and if there is any truth remaining to it, destroy that, as well.

I don't think that we get enough articles telling us what is going on with some of the not-so-big horses on their down times, either. In my column, I did a song and dance about Zenyatta way before she was ever in the Ladies' Classic. There was barely any mention of her even in our own publications before the championships. That is a fault we need to look into right there. Identify the rising stars and begin supporting them. Curlin's campaign as a four-year-old was a dream to cover. Who knows how many other horses we will get to follow like that again. To not champion his name in his retirement is a disservice on our part and in the other media. P.S. - As much as I love Zenyatta, Curlin still earns Horse of the Year in my book.

www.smilepolitely.com/.../index.php

24 Nov 2008 10:25 AM
DONNA

   KARENINTEXAS, thanks for the info on Lanes End, much appreciated I will check out their website and will hopefully get to see Curlin as well as their other stallions.

24 Nov 2008 11:27 AM
marc W

A couple comments after the first I made. To Dreamer Mom I raced horses in Canada. Knew many a great trainer and jock as a OJC clocker. The days of them being rock stars is over in this country, actually NA. It still has its place in Australia and other places. Improve the breed with state breds-sure, but at what costs-See Aqu and  LA-bred cards-I don't want to bet them, but that is just a minor flaw in the big picture. The industry needs to contract and have some weak players die. Note me here on these predictions -that breeding farms will die in mass in the next 15 years and the horse population will decrease except in slot driven states, which is probably a good thing. There are a hundred Storm Cats with no race records at stud that shouldn't be for example.

Another point made by someone the is a great point-- if -- in another division of the sport---THIS YEAR-arguably the BEST EVER trotting horse and pacing horse are running in unison  Deweycheatumnhowe (I know both Ray and Warren well)

and Somebeachsomewhere again THIS YEAR -and aren't getting much press. We are talking much more of superstars if you relate it to their sport that Curlin dreamed of being. I have always been Thoroughbred first but I can appreciate the other.

Doom and gloom-but racing like American auto makers deserve it-if you don't change to complete you lose market share-nothing lasts forever-ask Woolworth's--see if your corner Rite Aid store is there in 5 years-who'd have thought?

24 Nov 2008 12:34 PM
CRob87

Along with an earlier suggestion I made about Updating and Renovating I also think that all of the tracks need to "Go Green" like everyone in Hollywood seems to be promoting these days.

It might actually help with some positive attention for a change.  

You could even promote it like "Go Baby Go Is Going Green" or something like that.

And then maybe the extra money that they save can go into purses or backstretch improvements, instead of going to AEP.

24 Nov 2008 6:11 PM
Racingfan

Lee,  TVG is a network for betting on racing.  BUT it is also a great place to get to watch races, including many of the big ones!  Betting through TVG is not legal in my state but I still watch it all the time.  Not only do they show a lot of the stakes races (thanks to them I got to see the Dubai World Cup, the Stephen Foster and the Northern Dancer this year to name a few, that were not on tv in my area at least).  I don't understand all of the wagering things they talk about but I ignore what I don't understand and just enjoy the races - the allowance and claimers right along with the stakes.  I also enjoy seeing the different tracks across the country!  Someone definitely needs to find a way to get more races on tv!!!!  I have tried e-mailing ESPN but they never even responded......  :-(  

24 Nov 2008 9:43 PM
Bellwether

well don't forget FOX SPORTS...more Horse Racing from them as Bellwether Productions & WINNERCOMMM is on the POINT!!!Long Live The King!!!

25 Nov 2008 3:35 AM
dan

While I agree with most of your points,horse racing HAS to do a better job of telling its story and it missed many great stories this year and let the general media focus where it wanted, I also think it has to do with the fact Curlin lost his last race. He was decisively beaten and that was on national television. He also has a weird ownership situation and the 10mil means nothing to most people and since about half of that is from Dubai.  The avg person could care less about horse racing since it has been a long time since they have heard a happy story coming from it and that is racing's own fault.

25 Nov 2008 12:48 PM

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