Friday, October 25, 2019

Horses Run Around in a Circle

There was an interesting conversation on the twitter today after Ray Paulick tweeted a link to his piece about Woodbine deserving another Breeders' Cup. Most would think a world class venue like Woodbine's wouldn't cause much consternation in a topic of holding a world class event, but it does because Woodbine's "dirt" surface is tapeta.

The Breeders' Cup is for turf and "American dirt horses." Tradition kind of demands it, we hear.

Without getting into the usual (sometimes) nonsensical circular discussion about surfaces, the reliance on tradition or not wanting to change the game in many quarters, to me, can be lacking.

The backbone of a game is changed often; often by economics, and sometimes by the world evolving.

There are many football fans over a certain age who believe the game is not football anymore, because of the lack of hitting that defined the entire game.

But has the game's core changed? No, it was modified. It's still played on a rectangular field, the ball is thrown and caught, rushed with and spiked; you still get 6 for a TD, 3 for a FG. It's still watched, wagered on, and is growing. The game is fine. It's just evolving.

The core of the horse racing game, since forever and probably for forever, is pretty simple when we get right down to it: Who has the faster horse? Which of these horses racing in a circle or semi-circle will win? What will they pay if they win; what will I get as an owner if the horse wins?

What color the ground they raced on; if it's wet or dry, boggy or pristine; 87% sand and 12% beachball, doesn't really matter.

We always have to embrace change even if it flies into the face of tradition, because it can make the game better.

As an example, one of horse racing's great traditions (I kid, this one sucks) is unloading a lame horse on an unsuspecting owner, or racing a lame horse to get rid of it. Let's say there's a new technology that can cheaply bone scan a horse before it goes out to race, or before it's bought or sold, preventing fraud or breakdowns. Of course, that's not a threat to tradition, it's progress.

In this day and age we're pretty tribal, and horse racing seems to rely a lot on how things were done in the past, with change only happening when a lead shank is pried out of cold dead hands. I don't believe that's optimal.

Change can happen in horse racing, and when we enact it (hopefully with some proper analysis, although maybe that's a pipe dream), in my view we only really have to worry about the sport's true core being held constant: People buy horses, people train horses, people race horses and people bet on horses - Horses who run around in a circle.

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