THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO…

Hmmm.

RACHEL V. ZENYATTA: NOT AS GOOD AS IT MIGHT FIRST LOOK?

I’ve been desperately trying to ignore the media hype, and the racing industry’s attempts to create a Rachel Alexandra v. Zenyatta match race.

Is it really a good idea? Well…no.

In spite of owner Jess Jackson’s insistence that he won’t run the super filly on the synthetic Santa Anita racing surface, the Breeders Cup has sweetened the already lucrative (and out of reach for the overwhelming majority of owners-breeders) pot to try and create this race.

Conventional wisdom holds that such a race would be good for racing by attracting new fans. As frequently happens in our ever-changing world, conventional wisdom is wrong for the most part.
Well, would such a race be good for the game? Of course it would, and, obviously, racing wants its biggest stars to participate in its biggest show. But too many people are assigning too much value to a Breeders Cup Rachel v. Zenyatta show down.

There are folks out there who think such a race would be a boon to racing. However, when the folks who think this race – or any single event or even a Triple Crown winner – can attract new fans, they forget to mention one very important word – “temporarily.”

No one event or series of events over a few months will return horse racing to the halcyon Seabiscuit days when boxing, baseball and horseracing ruled the sports pages and the attention span of the American sporting public. Heck, it won’t even return it to the 1980’ or 1990’s for that matter.

It’s just not that easy in today’s complicated world where the competition over the entertainment dollar is more fierce than a MMA match or an NFL football game. The notion that such a race would create any long-term benefit to horse racing seems short-sighted when so many big problems need to be addressed.

And what about the downside? Rachel really proves nothing by beating Zenyatta. She has already crushed her age group, won a Triple Crown classic, the Haskell against boys her age and the Woodward against the old men. Beating Zenyatta doesn’t make her the Horse of the Year – she already is the Horse of the Year.

And what if Zenyatta wins? Does she leap frog over Rachel for HOY honors? She might, but she shouldn’t.

Finally, how about the ultimate downside? Suppose Rachel Alexandra suffers a catastrophic injury in this made-for-TV match race and has to be vanned off and later euthanized or, worse yet, euthanized on the track in front of millions?

Should such a catastrophe happen, the folks that run Santa Anita, the Breeders Cup and all of Rachel Alexandra’s connections would find themselves in front of the U.S. Congress trying to explain the inexplicable. That’s a public relations/marketing blow that would make the Michael Vick firestorm and the Eight Belles inquiry look pale by comparison.

Simply put, the race is a risky (and expensive) way to pick up new viewers and new fans who in all likelihood will return to soccer or the WNBA or the X-Games or whatever when Rachel Alexander heads off to the breeding shed. This isn’t ultimately about siphoning off fans from one “fringe” sport to another. This should be about turning horse racing back into a “major” sport and no single race can do that.

How about we take the industry’s tremendous resources and start fixing the real problems that will help the sport regain the public’s trust? How about we stop spending our time and effort on Triple Crown winners and mystical match races that are little more than a placebo at worst and a short-term solution at best?

How about real solutions for real problems – odds, anybody?

100 to 1 at best, and that’s disappointing. Glenn Petty

(Photos of Rachel Alexandra by Sarah Andrew via Flickr and Bud Morton via Flickr)