- Paul Moran
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The news landed heavily if not unexpectedly last week, a blow to the solar plexus in what has been a generally light-hearted summer. The weather for the most part has been compliant at the Spa. The racing has been competitive, the fields of acceptable size. The crowds have been large, the betting handle voluminous and when the summer stand is over, the autumn meeting at Belmont provides its own prestigious stage.
Before long, a stream of money will be set loose from a casino at Aqueduct that is now under construction and cannot be finished soon enough. Owners, trainers and breeders will benefit. Kentucky stallions have been moved here; mares are being sent from other states to foal offspring eligible to participate in the incentive program for horses bred in this state, the best of its kind. Receipts from a sale of New York-bred yearlings here are remarkably healthy. This is a good time for racing in New York. The future -- if there is one and it is nourished -- blushes with promise.
This cannot be said of the state of racing in California or Kentucky.
The distain of those now in charge of the Breeders' Cup toward the New York Racing Association has been neither secret nor discreet.
Beyond the Hudson, dark clouds line the sport's horizon. Racing's current cocktail of choice, equal parts arrogance and myopia, has taken hold, an intoxicant with potentially frightening consequence. Arrogance is provided in steaming heaps by the Breeders' Cup, its leaders having abdicated every virtue and purpose inspired by the event's founding fathers. Myopia is delivered by those -- including those who guide the Breeders' Cup, happily in double jeopardy of bringing the game to its knees -- who have taken up the cause of eliminating the use of Lasix for racing.
Sit back and watch a sport, an industry and a way of life die in its own noose.
There will be no Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park in 2012, as there should be. The decision was no surprise. The distain of those now in charge of the Breeders' Cup toward the New York Racing Association has been neither secret nor discreet.
The NYRA is not an organization without flaw and it has often been eminently successful in the promotion of ill will within the industry and among its customers. It has just as often been a bulwark of institutional arrogance bordering on the obstreperous and its critics, political and otherwise, are legion. But propriety, not popularity is the issue at hand. Intramural discord serves no purpose. Racing's most important event cries out for its biggest stage, the stage in the city of Times Square, Broadway and Wall Street.
Arcadia is a suburb of either Los Angeles or Pasadena, depending upon the view. Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is a racing icon in a small market. New York City did not become the crossroad of the world -- and of racing -- by accident.
Since 2005, the last year in which a Breeders' Cup has been staged in the greatest city in the world, three will have been awarded to Santa Anita and three more to Churchill Downs, worthy venues but certainly cities that do not merit the award to the exclusion of New York City.
The Breeders' Cup by design is a moveable feast, intended by its founders to showcase the sport to a wide live audience. Before it was hijacked by those now at the helm, it was orchestrated as intended -- in Illinois, Texas, Canada, New Jersey and Florida as well as Kentucky, California and New York.
Florida no longer has a racetrack suitable to the event, since the transformation of Gulfstream Park into a shopping mall and casino has left it incapable of accommodating a large racing crowd. But the event would still play well if revisited upon any of its former hosts, particularly Woodbine, which may be the most prosperous and progressive racetrack in North America.
Oddly, the expansion of the event, now run over two days, has been accompanied by an almost calculated contraction of exposure that has excluded the nation's most sophisticated and prolific racing market, which is also home to the facility most suitable and accommodating to the conduct of championship-caliber international racing.
Belmont Park affords the luxury of two expansive turf courses and the world's only 12-furlong dirt course. Europeans appreciate the configuration of the grass courses in New York as compared to the typical, tight-turned American course and the main track at Belmont accommodates races run at up to 9 furlongs around one turn, a configuration that results in truly run contests of horses and riders. The sand and loam surface is kind and fair. The place is regal, among the most historic venues on the continent and the setting in autumn is without peer.
Apparently, the Breeders' Cup view of efficiency is simultaneously making as many ill advised and unpopular decisions as possible.
Meanwhile, the Breeders' Cup has been run in California against billows of smoke from brushfires, eerie purple skies and 100-degree heat with ash whipped by a searing wind. Santa Anita has not been home to a suitable racing surface, perhaps ever. Conditions for Breeders' Cup executives and corporate sponsors who wish to play golf are superior to New York in November and the beaches are inviting but this is about horse racing, not vacation.
New York Racing Association officials expressed reserved disappointment that Belmont has been passed over in favor of Santa Anita and said that they hoped for more serious consideration for the next, but there is an undercurrent of doubt that anyone really wishes to host the Breeders' Cup of 2013, the year in which its leadership has decided to experiment with a highly controversial ban of Lasix. The ban is an exercise in irrationality that will undoubtedly bring the event if not the sport to its knees with a deep and grievous, self-inflicted wound. The Breeders' Cup may impose conditions of entry that exclude Lasix, but elimination of the medication in this country is widely supported by trainers and owners, legal in every racing state and after more than 25 years too deeply engrained to be banned with any but disastrous consequence.
Apparently, the Breeders' Cup view of efficiency -- one shared if not widely by other factions -- is simultaneously making as many ill advised and unpopular decisions as possible.
Unless the Breeders' Cup reconsiders this entirely irresponsible error of judgment, it will have a difficult time finding a host track, a compliant regulatory agency and willing American participants in 2013. Who wants to deal with that?
An interesting alternative has been suggested in the past, though New York's financial and political problems have until now stood in the way -- a competitive event run directly opposed to the Breeders' Cup by the only racing association with both the established races and -- by then -- the fiscal stature to offer a threat to the established misguidance. Every idea has its time and this one's day may be at hand.
Prestigious races with long histories now run in New York in advance of the Breeders' Cup and others afterward, repositioned, would replicate in essence the original event -- the Champagne, Frizette, Vosburgh, Flower Bowl, Cigar Mile, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup and a one-mile turf stakes, possibly the Kelso returned to its original surface -- most lost to the Breeders' Cup as prep races -- would become an event of their own, attractive to both European and American horsemen and run in a Lasix-compliant environment, which will undoubtedly prevail in New York beyond the Breeders' Cup's lame efforts at political correctness and threats from the members of the toothless American Graded Stakes Committee to mollify their employers and benefactors. The question: Does NYRA possess the chutzpah to execute what would be a daring move?
In the crosshairs of self-inflicted extinction, the Breeders' Cup may rediscover the reason for its existence -- unification, not division -- and the ingredient key to its success -- inclusion, not isolation -- both lost in the fog of the current leadership. Or -- a distinct possibility -- it may not.
If not, disaster (the endgame) awaits. The alignment of these stars is indeed perilous and when an accident is waiting to happen, it generally does.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sit back and watch a sport, an industry and a way of life die in its own noose.