I like reading books on the history of racing. Long ago, in another time, people raced their horses for ribbons, or bragging rights. They would meet on roads, on beaches, on bullrings, or on racetracks groomed to perfection. It did not matter. This was horse racing, and they were racing horses.
Even today, I will bet you that in rural Indiana or Ontario, or Ohio or Pennsylvania there is an amish kid speaking to another amish kid at this very moment: "My horse is faster than your horse. No he isn't, my horse is faster than your horse."
Then, no matter if it is raining, or misting, or if the distances are not right, or if there are too many pebbles on the farm track, they hook up the horses and go to it to decide just who has that fastest horse.
Conversely, in the big bad world of modern horse racing, this innocence that the sport was built on has been turned on its head. It is a corporate run nightmare where egos, politics and owner statements rule the roost, and racing fans are left to live with whatever those personalities or conglomerates decide, on any given day.
It is no longer horse racing. It is owner racing.
Rachel Alexandra is the most electrifying thoroughbred of 2009. Maybe the most electrifying horse of the decade. Zenyatta might just be as impressive. They have helped racing get put back on the radar a little bit. New fans have heard of them, and old fans are begging to see them meet. Over a quarter century ago the Breeders Cup was created to do exactly that - have the worlds best meet for an end of year championship. Perfect. I can not wait until the Breeders Cup!
Unfortunately, owner racing trumps horse racing in 2009. The owner of Rachel Alexandra apparently does not think much of synthetic tracks, and will not race Rachel in the Breeders Cup because of this: “I’ll go to the Breeders’ Cup on dirt, hopefully at Churchill next year, but not this year. That’s a firm decision, even though they may be pressuring and cajoling."
If that sounds curious to you, you are in good company. Just last year that same Jess Jackson (applauded by everyone in the industry for it) was asking fans where they want to see Curlin race on a poll on his website.
"It became obvious this weekend at Belmont Park that Curlin is not only a hero to me and my family but also to thousands of fans," Jackson said. "With so many people supporting Curlin and his future I wanted to ask the public where they think Curlin should go next."
The poll, which will be open through July 30, asks simply: "If you were Curlin’s owner, Jess Jackson, where should Curlin go next?"
A. Turf Campaign
B. Dirt Campaign
C. Synthetic Surface Campaign
Notice choice "c"?
Mr. Jackson seems to have liked the media spotlight and good press afforded to him when he was asking fans for input on where Curlin should go next. My question I guess is, can he handle the negative press which will point out his hypocrisy with Rachel over the next four months, whereby those same fans are summarily ignored?
We are a long way from old time racing where two horses would meet, where ever and whenever, to decide who was best; and I doubt that this will change any time soon.
Owner racing is here to stay; the horses are simply a tool in the game.