Tag Archives: rants

Buzzers and Bolt Guns and Doping, Oh My! CSI: Miami Goes to the Races

All I can say is WOW.  Monday night’s episode of CSI: Miami featured a murder at the racetrack, and if you didn’t hate the sport before the show, the producers gave you plenty to help change your mind.  Battery-operated shocking devices, bolt guns, doping, race-fixing, corrupt jockeys, gambling-addict vets, slimey owners, and Horatio’s shades…all in a day’s work on TV tracks.

I know, I know, it’s CSI: Miami.  It’s a shlocky police procedural.  I have seen them do dumber shows.  I wouldn’t be so pissy if the show had been the least bit original.  It gets old watching the same stories about the same crooked jockey/trainer/owner hurting a horse.   

And what was the deal with that bolt gun?  Seriously?  “Everybody has one??”  Seriously????


The sad thing is people get the wrong ideas about racing because of shows like that.  When the worst happens, like the Eight Belles tragedy, people are preconditioned to see that as a normal case of racetrack “brutality”.  Just once I would like to see racing presented in an intelligent, realistic manner.  It *can* be done.  And no horses would have to die, or be buzzed.

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OAKLAWN *already* looks like MAJOR DERBY PREPs

Just got word that SQUARE EDDIE is trying the real dirt at Oaklawn in the SOuthwest stakes Feb. 16. Also pointing for that race is Old Fashioned. Dixieland winner Silver City may try that one, as well as Smarty Jones STakes winner Flat Out. A promising allowance horse from opening weekend is Poltergeist, who is also looking at the Southwest.

Last year, Gayego tried the real dirt in the Arkansas Derby, on his way to the KY Derby. It looks like trainers of 2009’s talented California contingent are headed this way as well. I love this. Perhaps the American Graded STakes Committee will take this to heart when they review Graded Stakes rankings. The ARKANSAS DERBY needs to be a GRADE 1 RACE, people!!!

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Didn’t the NTRA do this years ago, and people complained?

Hey, I saw a VISA commercial the other day that reminded me of a long-running argument among racing fans about the way our sport is marketed.

The ad in question is for VISA’s support of the NFL.  It features the drama unfolding on the field of an NFL game intercut with shots of fans reacting in the stands.  The tagline is “GO FANS”.

Since its inception, the NTRA has tried to show the fun of thoroughbred racing by showing on-track clips of (mostly generic) horses mashed up with clips of happy, winning-ticket-holding fans in the stands.  The tagline is “GO BABY GO”.

Since its inception, fans have wasted no time registering their displeasure with the fan-oriented marketing.  At the time, horse racing was the only sport that did not feature its stars in the ads, but the schlubs in the stands.  The horses shown briefly in the spots weren’t Skip Away, Silver Charm, Real Quiet or Silverbulletday, the top horses of 1998/99.   Nor did the NTRA use name trainers, jockeys or owners to promote the sport.  How could people possibly understand the allure of the turf this way?  Even the tagline, that I personally happen to like, was criticized:  “Go Baby Go” was seen as low-class and unrepresentative of the glory of the game.

I’m not saying the NTRA was completely off the mark back then: actor Lori Petty was the first spokesman for the sport, and her ads actually made “Go baby Go” hip and sorta sexy.   Sadly, the ads didn’t go over well with the longtime fans, most of whom didn’t know Petty and weren’t into the vibe she set,  which was decidedly younger than them.  At the time, Bill Finley called Petty’s ads “annoying” and her style “emaciated GenX type.”  She was replaced by a more stereotypical racing fan spokesman: ancient Rip Torn. 

In the 10 years since, NTRA ads have stayed safe and bland, everything that racing is not.  The advertising Mad Men working for the league should have insisted on keeping the more aggressive, unconventional, contemporary style. 

It is not difficult to market a product to 20-somethings in 2008.  All you have to do is highlight how “authentic” racing is!  This means celebrating our long, rich history and colorful traditions.  It also means embracing that we’re a niche sport, not a big, uber-commercialized behemoth.  Putting our top horses in the ads is a major start, but also making the top trainers and especially the jocks, in the post-Bailey/Stevens/Day/McCarron era, household names should be a priority.  Make wagering easy & accessible: take advantage of modern technology!  iPhone app, anyone?? 

 The biggest advantage that horse racing has in the fight for the consumer dollar is affordability.  A day at the track starts at only $3 for admission, and seats in the clubhouse on a weekend are only $4.50 at Oaklawn.  Compare that to the NBA average of $49.47 — yes, you can buy cheaper tickets, but those are in the rafters!  $3 general admission at the races lets you get right up to the rail, where you can see the sweat on the jockeys’ brows and feel the rumble of galloping hooves!  Food and drink prices are also cheap compared to what they peddle at the FedEx Forum.  Of course, it’s cheap because the tracks hope the fans place a wager or two.  If you’re lucky and smart, you just may win back all of your admission.  

I guess that is the point of the new VISA ads.  With the money crunch forcing people to re-examine their spending, the pro sports leagues must concentrate more effort on the people they’ve taken advantage of all these years.  But I guarantee that nobody will complain about this fan-centric advertising.

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11 Grade 1 Races This Weekend…Only ONE on ESPN

Last week, at the NTRA’s marketing summit, a lot of talk centered on how to attract and keep the next generation of fans.  The first part would be having horses stay around long enough for us to enjoy them.  The second part would be broadcasting the races where these stars are competing!!!

This weekend are the PLAYOFFS of Breeders’ Cup!  *11 GRADE ONE RACES* on both coasts, on all surfaces will feature many championship hopefuls.  Most of them will be on TVG-the Belmont ones.  HRTV takes up the Santa Anita races.  Most people do not have TVG or HRTV (*I* don’t even have HRTV…sigh).  Our fearless leaders in racing have quickly thrown together some TV time for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on ESPN because Curlin is entered.  The brief pre-race coverage will be completely irrelevant.  There are few serious handicappers on ESPN (at least few who are allowed to be serious on the air.  Mayne always appeared to know his stuff but his irreverence got in the way; Moss is solid but has to dumb it down too much).  There will probably be no post parade, no discussion of the other horses in the field (“they’re all running for second”) or interviews with connections not named Asumussen or Jackson. 

Most people I know only know about the race as a singular event – the preps for the Derby go unnoticed, the idea of peaking or rounding into form or the fact that there is even any tactical theory involved in a race is news to the casual observer.  We have to promote the “thinking” side of the game more.  It’s not just a mad dash to the wire (not talking Quarters here).  Get people interested in Beyer numbers or ThoroGraph sheets; pit the 2 sides against each other.  The trip handicappers against the pedigree people.   SPotlight and involve this specialized side of the sport on national TV, and there will be more people interested in the game as a Game.  Not everyone loves horses like I do, but when I talk about the splits and figs and stuff, people (guys) take more interest. 

The Internet is a godsend for this infoporn: I can get boatloads of info for free or really, really cheap.  Discussion forums are everywhere.  And the race replays are online, too!  It is a perfect sport for the snack culture-the entire thing is only 2 minutes.  And if you know enough, make smart bets and play responsibly, you will win a lot more often than simply dropping a coin into a slot machine.

 The only show that does everything I have mentioned above is At The Races with Steve Byk on Sirius.  The man is a godsend – smart commentary, great guests who Byk is not afraid to question, a lot of good history buffs and pedigree experts, interviews with a wide range of handicappers, jockeys, trainers, even VETS!  Live calls of feature races that he, his guests and average-Joe call-ins handicap.  It is the Racing Equivalent of Sportscenter.  I only wish more people could listen to it.

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