A week ago if someone told you that American Pharoah won the Derby, you'd expect the hype would reach fever pitch to the power of nine. Pre-Derby, we all saw the quotes about him being the next great one, the best mover since so and so. And he had to beat Dortmund, who himself was being talked about in similar terms. If he won, one might expect that those opinions would be justified and away we go.
Margin of victory and final times (or figures) are still a benchmark used by the business in terms of buzz and greatness. American Pharoah won the race, but he won it by a small margin, after a relatively good trip. He did so with a relatively short Beyer and he was all-out to do that. He just beat Firing Line, who was not even Dortmund. Flying late was Frosted, who was far back in par fractions, making up ground - "if only he had pace to chase!". Materiality had a terrible trip and some people think he might've won the race with a good one.
In effect this is nothing new. It's a classic case of expectations not being met. American Pharoah showed up, won the race, but did not do it impressively enough.
Last year, like in some previous years there was a post-Derby buzz. California Chrome looked to be toying with the field, Orb ran by them like they were tied to a pole: Margin and ease of victory. This year no such thing.
American Pharoah will likely be a 3-5 shot in the Preakness. There's probably a 50/50 chance he goes to the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line. Chris Kay will be pumped, some fans will too, but the buzz still, in my view, will not be like other Triple Crown tries. Expectations rule the day in this sport.
The post-Derby chatter has been much different this year in other ways. We have stories about Dortmund's colic, and International Star's scratching. There's also quite a bit of chatter about the "32 time" whipping of American Pharoah. Even 20 years ago these stories would not even be a whimper, but now life and society is much different. Whipping a horse 32 times resonates and it makes little difference if it's explained, or justified in some way. As an industry you cannot trumpet the fact that 170,000 people show up to a race who never go to horse races, or 15 million people watch it on television - millions of them who know nothing about the sport - then wring your hands that they don't know they're watching a "soft whip".
Everyone wants horse racing to go mainstream and be a sport like the NFL or NBA. Mainstream means you have to deal with whipping, or foot bruise or quarter crack, or lasix, or horse safety questions. You can't have one without the other. As Derby viewership grows as the population grows, expect more, not less of it. And frankly I am not sure it's a bad thing.
Have a nice Tuesday everyone.
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