Monday, October 19, 2009
Take a few for the Industry
By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com
All right, people, listen up.
Nobody said that this game would play downwind or downhill. But we're horse players. We have experience with being confused on a daily basis, with being robbed almost hourly, with being incorrect consistently. We are treated like deadbeats, it's as though the race track is doing us a favor by taking our money. We are viewed askance by proper society. We have to frequently serve ourselves. And when we win what we deserve, we have to fill out a tax form. Then we have to figure out a way to get to the car without being jumped.
But we can focus. We can block out nuisances and pull together and do this thing: We can get excited about the Breeder's Cup two-day collection of races at Santa Anita in less than a month; somebody pass the lint roller, it's time to race for world championships on the fuzz.
Whereas the racing surface may be artificial, the worldliness of the event isn't, just check out all the blokes. Outside of soccer and poker, the Breeder's Cup is the most open of sports competitions.
Even though most horse players might prefer Mountaineer in the mist, Finger Lakes in the frost, or Suffolk in the soup, it is the horse player's responsibility to support the Breeder's Cup, no matter the invasion of the accents, the elusiveness of the profit, the lack of dirt.
Golf fans might not enjoy fighting heat stroke at the PGA tournament in August, yet still the pinheads show up with enthusiasm to shout, as a player tees off on a 600-yard par 5, "Get in the hole." No, you with the big cup of beer in each hand, you get in the hole.
This is the second straight Breeder's Cup to be run in showy So-Cal. And who could have argued that decision after the Monsoon at Monmouth, when, toward the end of that Cup card, it seemed that horses appeared near the finish line after just raced through a waterfall. So what's less "real," mud wrestling in the northeast, or running on the goofy putty in Rose Parade Country, the Rehab Country of greater LA?
Speaking on the subject of unreal, grab your battery-heated mittens, and toss me the parka preferred by Alaskans, and let's go watch us some baseball. Speaking of bizarre, how about a Yankee-Phillies World Series in the sleet, where a broken bat could send the hitter to the emergency room with badly bruised hands. Wonder who will be Mr. November this year. Money talks -- at a baseball game, it says Brrr. At this Breeder's Cup, it says don't forget the sunscreen.
Actually, the Breeder's Cup is as much for "them" as anybody, "they" being a national TV audience of part-time players and newcomers to the game, people the horse racing industry as a whole wouldn't mind impressing and having back: Howdy-do, welcome to the track, have about some wine and crumpets, just like we do most days.
As a series of wagering propositions, as gambles, the artificial surface combined with the evenly-matched fields makes winning difficult by standard handicapping practices. So? It's true, the surface has kept some great horses at bay. Again, so? Odds of 10-1 pays $12 on anything from a $3,500 claimer to the Classic winner.
From a gaming perspective, certain Breeder's Cup races can be treated like colorful lotteries, lucky numbers, cute names, rudimentary handicapping skills, you're all set to try to win a bag full.
Getting back to the subject of the unreal: Did any of you happen to catch the Oklahoma-Texas football game? I'd rather watch non-winners of two race across shaving cream than watch another mess like that game, which proved that the spread formation is an idea whose time has come and has worn out its welcome, not to mention worn out a number of its own quarterbacks. The spread formation has been spread too thin. It is a gimmick, like the wishbone, a hook that works until the linebackers put on 15 more pounds, and coaches start earning some of their money. The problem with the spread is you can't run out of it. Not an inch. It's like running from a short punt formation. To be effective, the spread has to be operated by an option quarterback, who, at some point, will be bent in half. The national title contenders don't run the spread. The OU-Texas game set offensive football back to the day of wooden play calling and wooden goal posts.
Still on the subject of stuff that is not as real as the Breeder's Cup races, even on fake dirt, how about that officiating in the Arkansas-Florida football fiasco? Turns out the ESPN on-air people are not the only ones to adore Tebow. Did you see what the zebras did to poor Arkansas? Calling penalties for blocking?
Breeder's Cup weekend offers the industry, horse player regulars included, the opportunity to showcase our sport.
Midweek at Delta we can get back to the questions essential to basic horse racing: Did you see that ride? Can you believe a trainer would let that on a track? How could they not take his number down? What was I thinking?
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.