On Friday evening at Churchill Downs, a lot of people in the press box were surprised at Life At Ten’s performance when she broke – sort of – from the gate in the Distaff. (Do I *have* to call it the Ladies’ Classic? Do I have to?)
And some of us weren’t.
Most of the many televisions in the room were tuned to the track feed, and they were on mute: too many people doing too much writing for the distractions of all-day live commentary. One small TV, at the front of the room, was tuned to ESPN; at various times, its volume was on, but low enough for only those near it to hear it.
So almost no one in the press box heard John Velazquez talking about Life At Ten; no one heard his reservations and concerns. And I didn’t, either…but the message was coming across loud and clear from Twitter, where ESPN viewers were posting fast and furious updates about what they’d heard.
I figured Life At Ten would be scratched, and when she wasn’t, I fleetingly thought that perhaps Velazquez would take care of her and gallop her around the track…but then, “No,” I thought. “The bettors.”
But then Life At Ten stepped out of the gate, and Velazquez barely rode her, and she got distanced. And I wasn’t surprised, because what I’d read on Twitter suggested that what happened was indeed a possibility.
Not so for dozens – maybe hundreds? – of other writers, who watched in bewilderment as this mare who’s made a career of leading the other horses on a merry chase inexplicably lagged far, far, far behind the field.
And all of a sudden, it was clear: the men and women in the press box, those charged with covering the race and reporting to the public, knew a heck of a lot less than the people watching TV and following Twitter.
So there, I was, quoting Twitter feeds to turf writers who wondered what the hell had happened to Life At Ten, and those turf writers were using those Twitter comments to formulate their own questions about just what happened in the minutes leading up to the start of the Distaff. (Do I *have* to call it the Ladies’ Classic? Do I have to?)
It’s not uncommon, I know, for a television audience to have more information than those of us at the track, as either customers or journalists. ESPN watchers knew before I did that Rough Sailing had been euthanized; three years ago, I knew at Aqueduct before my friends at Monmouth did that George Washington had been injured.
But there feels something a little wrong, a little off, about journalists HAVING to rely on alternative media to do their jobs…doesn’t it? Should every turf writer have to follow Twitter or watch TV to know what’s going on? Or is there a responsibility of someone at the races – in the communications office? – to let people know what’s going on?
I’m a fan of Twitter and spend more time reading feeds than I care to admit, and I get a lot of good information about racing, current events, and education (along with a fair bit of dreck) from it; nonetheless, there was something about the turn of events on Friday night that made me a little uneasy. I don’t know why; I can’t put my finger on it. When I’m covering an event, my Twitter feed is up and I rely on it; it feels essential to me.
But I do it by choice; I guess the idea that Twitter has become somehow compulsory is what is leaving me a little nonplussed.
What was clear, though, indubitably so, last Friday night, is that those who weren’t watching TV or following on Twitter were at a disadvantage to those who were. And the collective knowledge of the Twitter community was an indispensable resource to those who, in the immediate aftermath of the race, were looking for answers.