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.

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