Am I a bad racing fan…

……if I’m not all that interested in this year’s Breeders’ Cup?

I assumed that I’d be psyched as it got closer; plenty of the horses entered interest me, horses I’ve seen and admired: Music Note, Indian Blessing, Doremifasollatido, Ginger Punch, Wait A While, Dynaforce, Colonel John, Better Talk Now, Thorn Song, Shakis. I should be thrilled, salivating with anticipation at the chance to see them in action on racing’s biggest day, with so much at stake.

But here we are, two days out, and I gotta say, I was more psyched about last weekend’s NY Showcase Day at Belmont than I am about this weekend’s racing.

Maybe it’s because I think it’s fundamentally wrong that year-end championships may well ride on the way horses perform on a surface over which they’ve never previously run. As Andy Serling put it on Thoroughbred Weekly, speaking of Curlin, “It would be a shame for this Breeders’ Cup, and maybe his career, to end with a loss because of a racetrack, and not because a better horse beat him.”

Maybe it’s because I think it was unnecessary and unwise to award the Breeders’ Cup to the same track for two consecutive years.

Maybe it’s because I won’t be able to see the horses that I am most interested in seeing, because they’ll be running on Friday when I’ll be working.

And before you start scrolling down to click “comment” to tell me that if I were a real racing fan, I’d take the day off—don’t bother. Don’t presume to tell me that I’ve had plenty of time to plan, and that, hey, it’s only one day, and really, I could just call in sick.

I should pay for the Breeders’ Cup folly by taking a personal day or by lying to my employer? I should pay for the Breeders’ Cup folly by working extra on Thursday or Sunday or Monday so that I can stay home and watch television?

If the folks at the Breeders’ Cup really wanted me—or anyone else—to watch—and bet—they wouldn’t have scheduled premier races at a time when the great majority of us can’t pay attention.

In my e-mail box on Monday, I got a Thoroughbred Daily News update with the headline, “Believe in Hope, Communique, J Be K Out of Breeders’ Cup.” They are only the latest in the line of horses who won’t be hitting the track this weekend, for a variety of reasons, and while I’m certainly not happy that injuries are preventing horses from running, I can’t but feel the teensiest frisson of satisfaction as horses defect.

I don’t want this “championship” meet to succeed; I don’t want these decisions to be validated; I don’t want the Breeders’ Cup folks to be able to reflect with self-satisfaction and self-importance on what they’ve created. The Breeders’ Cup has already wreaked havoc with the traditional stakes schedule and with historical races; it has already diminished a horse’s year-long accomplishments. Now, it’s asking us to disregard the way dirt horses have performed all year, and to guess at how they might perform on a surface that’s completely untested in this country, and to reward horses for taking to it immediately.

I’ll be at Belmont on Saturday, I’ll be watching, and I may be betting. I’ll be hoping that this year, the Breeders’ Cup will end with all horses having come home safely, and that we will have a chance to see epic, memorable performances. But the surface and the segregation will, to my mind, always put a “qualified” before any “success” that might be ascribed to these championships. And if any horses perform well this weekend, beyond how they’ve performed all year, and garner year-end honors because of it, these races will be revealed for the anomaly that some of us suspect that they are.

8 thoughts on “Am I a bad racing fan…

  1. The gambit of the synthetics was to put safety first in horse racing. Is that the case?- don’t know. Turfway is much the better though I will say that. I thought the Breeder’s Cup was created due to a slow time in the industry and to challenge horses from all over the world. The track that hosts the cup generates millions of dollars into local economy and is showcased. Paul Moran mentioned how sparse the crowd was at Santa Anita on Sunday, I would assume that this weekend it should be packed.Are you a bad racing fan?-no, you patronize your local track which so happens to be a very famous track. The most important issue is to enjoy racing where you live.

  2. Nicely put and while I like parts of the expanded BC program, when I look at the fields for the Marathon, the Turf sprint and Juvenile Turf races I just don’t think BC. THe BC is about championships and theses races are not championships; I can’t even imagine these races ever being rated Grade 1s.Yet thet are being run on the main (male)program, it just doesn’t make much sense.

  3. Here’s the text of an e-mail I sent to a friend a couple of days ago:I don’t know if it’s just me, but am I the only one who really isn’t fired up over this year’s Breeders’ Cup? I’ll watch the proceedings, but I’m probably not going to wager. I can’t figure out if it’s overkill trying to handicap 14 races over two days, the fact that’s it’s in California or that they are so many races and divisions that it’s tough to keep a handle on the participants. Maybe it’s all of the above in some way, shape or form. Whatever the reasons, I just can’t get into it this year. I sent some cash to the boys for their syndicate wagering and that’s probably going to be about all the action for me. I have to travel to my daughter’s college Parent’s Weekend in New Hampshire on Saturday, which will take some focus away.

  4. There is no such thing as a bad “fan” of any kind. A fan is short for “fanatic” and a fan’s thoughts can never be explained or justified. That is our right as fans.I was much more juiced up last year, but maybe that is because I am here on the East Coast and I went to Monmouth on Saturday to watch the races in person. For me, it is the California Track and the surface-I believe the synthetic surfaces will be in 20 years what artificial turf is now in Major League Baseball-virtually extinct.

  5. Not a bad racing fan. A bunch of us always get together at the local OTB Teletheater and I always look forward to it. But, for some reason, this year, I’m in the same boat you are. I look forward to it, but not at the same level that I have in years past. I think it’s just the confusing nature of the races due to the surface. I guess when they go to Churchill in 2 years, they should make all the turf horses run on dirt and all the dirt horses run on turf. That’s pretty much the equivalent of what we’re getting this year and probably next year at Santa Anita.

  6. I soured on the BC (although would have been happy to go) when they added all the extra races. I always loved when an Xtra Heat, Safely Kept or Meafara took on the boys in the sprint, or when a great mare like Miss Alleged went into the turf or when the brilliant miler Congaree tried to stretch his speed in the classic. That is how true champions are forged, in the crucible of competition against the finest horses in the world. Now, even though some of these races are very good, the overall card — excuse me, cards — feel like too much. BC says its to market the event better. But the marketing is at the expense of the concept of championship. As an Eclipse voter, I have tried my best to reward a year of excellence rather than a year-end victory. A BC win carries a lot of weight, but doesn’t get rubber stamped. That you worry at all about being a bad racing fan probably means that you care too much. Racing is lucky to have you. — John S.

  7. Yeah, I’m having the same problem. For me, a very new fan, the problem has a couple of roots. First, the synthetic surface. How do I bet a surface nobody’s run on yet? A surface even the best trainers are telling me is un-handicap-able? Second, this year’s crop of three year olds held nothing for me. I could never get beyond Big Brown’s connections to feel any attachment to him. And who else was there, really? I’m always happy to see Curlin run, and there are lots of horses I’ve seen and loved in the past couple of years (Zenyatta gave me the eyeball at Hollywood back in the summer, and I’d like to see her further dominate), but, well, I don’t know. I made other plans for Saturday. I hope the surface runs well and I can get excited for next year.

  8. Maybe they could put an asterisk next to the next two years…”I can’t but feel the teensiest frisson of satisfaction as horses defect.”…My hero. Someday I will plagiarize that sentence in my novel.

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