VIRGINIA THOROUGHBREDS: HORSE SENSE

This editorial appeared in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. It would appear that some of the facts were taken from an editorial we submitted last month as well as some info posted here on the blog. However, we aren’t sure what conclusions are drawn except that 1) the RTD supports racing in Virginia and 2) in their humble opinion, Pimlico is a dump.

By Staff Reports

Published: July 18, 2009/Editorial Page

The Virginia Derby is slated for Colonial Downs today. Our bet always goes to the jockey with the prettiest silks, which may explain why we’re not retired and playing golf in Bermuda. A long shot thrilled fans by winning the Kentucky Derby. A filly took the Preakness in a race to the tape. This spring The Washington Post noted that despite a rich history regarding breeding and horsemanship, Virginia did not field an entry in either stakes. The Virginia-bred Charitable Man raced in Belmont, however.

Secretariat was bred in Virginia, just up the road in Doswell as a matter of fact. Many consider him the greatest race horse ever. A Virginia native has not run for the roses since 1996.

Virginia racing dates to Colonial days. Although the state did not authorize regular parimutuel betting until the late 1980s, Virginia horses prospered nationally. That no longer seems to be the case. According to The Post, in its prime Virginia produced 1,400 Thoroughbred foals a year. It produces only 350 now.

Various factors contribute to the decline, including a loss of farmland to development and breeder funds that cannot compete with those in other states (“breeder funds” refers to the dollars allocated to breeders from the state’s share of gambling). Parimutuel was advertised in part as a means to boost the Thoroughbred industry. The Post suggests that the results have proved disappointing. We continue to support racing in Virginia, and hope that Colonial Downs and its parlors eventually will generate the revenue to restore the glory days.

Racing in general is not doing well. In tough times people are less likely to risk a flutter on a pony. Other forms of gambling are siphoning cash from the races, too. Legendary venues such as Churchill Downs are feeling the heat. Tracks increasingly rely on slots and other enticements. Viewers of the Preakness on TV may have noticed an almost empty infield. This year Pimlico banned beer brought in from outside. The rowdy crowds disappeared, which says a lot about their priorities, and their etiquette. Can the sport of kings flourish in a nation of slobs and inebriates?

Racing in Maryland faces hurdles as well. The legislature there has debated rescue plans to prevent the Preakness from bolting for another state, and to promote Maryland’s tracks. In London, Pimlico refers to a neighborhood of gentility and grace. Baltimore’s Pimlico has a charming name but is otherwise a dump.

(Editor’s note: If you are wondering what has happened to the photos that usually accompany the blog posts, we can no longer post any until we expand our storage capacity at blogger. We did that Friday, but it make take a few days to get back to normal. Sorry for the lack of visual stimuli.)