(American) Thoroughbred Racing’s Silly Obsession with Football, Not Horses.
American Thoroughbred horse racing tries so hard to become All Things, to All People–that it is losing its focus, and mission. So, instead of becoming the sport that is All Things, to All People–it is running, head-long, into being Nothing, to No One.
The older I get, the more set in my ways I become. No doubt, this is true of everyone. But the thing about ME is, that, I still hold opinions that I formed when I was 12, 16, 32. I made decisions at those young ages, and steadfastly have stuck with them for over 45 years. Perhaps you have, too. Oh, yes, of course, we evaluate and reassess–not to do so would be ridiculous. But I’m usually pleased, that I come up with the same opinions and conclusions as when I made them, originally. If I really believed something to be true, good or real in 1971, I believed so because I’d given it careful thought. And, logically speaking–the value thereof probably hasn’t changed with Time…
With that as historic background, I’m about to share with you something that everyone who knows me–and many who’ve just met me–knows:
The only sport about which I care deeply, passionately, obsessively–quelle surprise–is horse racing. But of course, I care about any sport that involves horses. e.g., I love polo. The requirement for gaining my attention is that the main athlete is equine. If no horses, then I don’t give a royal, tiny rat’s patootie.
My motto is simple:
If s/he doesn’t have four legs and a mane–or ride someone who has four legs and a mane–I don’t care. (And I probably don’t know the names, so just don’t ask. No, I couldn’t tell you the name of one single football, basketball or hockey player. Really.)
Like many babies, I was plopped onto the back of a pony when I was six months old. Put onto another pony again, at age three. (I remember loving the dear, gentle soul beneath me, who was led around by a patient, 16-year-old cousin.)
I began actual riding, my cousin’s American Quarter Horse, at age four: that same year my Mother took me to the Saratoga Race Course. I didn’t know the difference between Patches, whom I rode on Bill’s farm–and Kelso–but my grrrlish little heart knew that I loved seeing the big horsies whiz past me as I stood at the rail. Before I was 10, I’d become a regular at Suffolk Downs. At 11, I was one of the first patrons through the gate at the brand-new Green Mountain Park.
I was reared by my Mother and Grandmother–an all-female household. And neither Mommy nor Gram cared about any sport but horse racing. So it’s been concluded that I wasn’t exposed to other sports, but that’s not true: I had two uncles and myriad male cousins. Neither of my uncles watched or (illegally) bet on sports–except Uncle Ed, who loved horse racing. And the male cousins MAY have participated inn football, baseball, basketball, etc.–but why would their opinions of anything matter to me, any more than my thoughts, matter to them? (Even as a small grrrl and the very-youngest of the cousins–I was pretty independent.)
So, way-back, when I was 16, I came up with the aforementioned, smart-mouthed retort that served my purpose, of shutting down the insipid inquiry, as to why I don’t know the name of some famous human athlete.
I just don’t care.
Yep, that’s a pretty closed-minded way to think: I love horses. I love and respect humans who ride them. End of discussion. Jockeys, jodhpurs, polo mallets–all, groovy. Outside of the world of horse racing–and, when I can, polo matches and horse shows–how would I have time or emotions or words to invest in anything else?? In anything that doesn’t make my heart pound, my soul soar?
For me to take my heart or focus off of horses, or (more narrowly), horse racing–would be to water-down my devotion. Time not spent writing about horses–or watching them race–is wasted time in my narrow world. And I’m good with that.
So, I’ve been thinking about a recent sports festival at a certain harness race track, and the fact that four of the greatest jockeys ever to live were In The House. All day, and into the evening.
And yet–the official graphics–the poster–gave no clue that three Triple Crown-winning jockeys and a fourth legend (Cruguet, Cauthen, Turcotte, Cordero, Jr.)–would be on-campus, and ready to meet their fans.
It looked to me like a festival that was run by a company that started with harness racing–and became something huge and possibly out-of-control. A joint where it’s hard to realize that beautiful, 1,000-pound horses live there–and race there. The person who authorized the creation of that poster didn’t think for a single minute about the historic, horse-centric origins of the place.
So today’s suggestion is simple, short and to the point: how about if the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing concentrates its efforts on, oh, I don’t know–horse racing?–and stops trying to be All Things to All People??
It’s not-uncommon for race tracks in America to host football festivals/football, baseball players’ days/etc. in order to get people in through the track’s turnstiles.
And yes, this MAY be a fix–for one single day, once a year.
But in NO WAY does that grow the sport of horse racing. Not one iota. A guy who comes to get a baseball player’s autograph, who’s not ALREADY a horse racing fan–probably is NOT going to come back THE NEXT DAY.
And THAT kind of fan, folks, is what we need to grow in horse racing. A fan who’d rather be at the track than doing anything else. Someone who doesn’t need or want to watch baseball on a TV while they’re at the track. We need RABID fans–people who fall in love with the athletes (both horse and human), and with the sport–and can’t wait to come back. People who call in sick (hack, cough) during the meet: Keeneland’s meet, as example, must have lots of doctors on-hand, because I have lots of Kentucky friends who are sick for three weeks in April, then again in October every year.
THAT kind of fan. One-trick ponies–people who come to meet athletes from OTHER sports–will NOT grow OUR sport.
I’ll leave you with a single question, upon which to ponder. And, maybe, put into the ear of the (male-dominated) Board of your local racing association: When was the last time you saw the NFL trot out Seabiscuit at a football game?
i.e., If football doesn’t have Horse Racing Fan Days at MetLife Stadium–WHY do American (horse) race courses have football days?
It’s simple: because, for some idiotic reason, American Thoroughbred racing’s (male-dominated) Boards of Directors thinks that, by bringing in fans of other sports–somehow, said fans will convert magically to the Sport of Kings. Or at least, they’ll spend some of their hard-earned cash at our teller’s windows.
But the sad answer is that, NEVER will that happen. So, there you go. Football doesn’t use OUR sport to try to get more paid admissions–so WHY does horse racing water down OUR message? They don’t sell shoes at CVS, race fans–so why are we selling football at horse tracks?
Game. Set. Match.
Always Dreaming wins the Kentucky Derby, 2017. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs.