By Kevin Stafford, The Aspiring Horse Player
"this is the way the
world will end
this is the way the world will
this is the way the world will
Not with a bang, but a whimper"
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.
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
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.