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Monday, February 9, 2015

More horse racing rivalries = more interest

On February 7, 2015 we were treated to what was called "The Rematch" between California Chrome and Shared Belief in the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.  On a cloudy and rainy day, over 21,000 fans showed up and they were not disappointed as these two hooked up in the stretch with Shared Belief proving the better of the two on this day.  

Of course, there was no trash talk before or after amongst the horses, but there surely was amongst the fans.  This is good for business as the slogan "put your money where your mouth is" comes into play as fans wager with their dollars.  It was a bit surprising to see Shared Belief at even-money odds over California Chrome at 7/5 since 'Chrome seems to have more of a fan base, but the public was right and more fans got to puff their chest as a result.

Those expecting to see these two "rivals" meet up every month for the rest of the year are in for a rude awakening as it is unlikely they might not ever meet up again this year or ever again.  Shared Belief is scheduled to run next in the Santa Anita Handicap next month while California Chrome has his sights on the Dubai World Cup with a $10 million purse.  Many horses don't come back the same after a trip to Dubai and 'Chrome's connections have mentioned running him on the turf afterwards.

It's too bad there are too many options for horses of this caliber; for the fans at least.  There are many big races throughout the year around the country and owners can pick and choose their spots.  Of course, the connections are thrilled when this happens as they don't have to face more than one or two serious challengers for a large purse, but it also hurts the business and the sport.  As a fan, would you rather see a 3/5 shot win a five horse field or have a large field with three or four serious challengers as we saw in the San Pasqual (Hopportunity was the other)? 

The San Pasqual, along with the San Marcos Stakes, and the Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park, was featured on cable TV station Fox Sports 1.  I did catch most of the show and it was mostly positive.  I liked how they didn't avoid the wagering aspect of the game with handicappers giving their selections, they showed the payoffs afterwards and there were even online wagering commercials.  The showing of the Donn Handicap was the low point as it was not shown on full screen and there were audio and video problems which might not have been the network's fault.

Anyways, these type of shows would be great to have more than once per month.  Twice or even three times a month would be great to see and we could also see more rivalries develop other than the ones just for male Handicap runners.  Why not a sprint rivalry? a female turf route one? a turf sprint one? and so on.  Why does the horse racing industry continue to give the male Handicap division the most attention when supposedly the last rivalry was in 1989 between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence?  

What I would love to see is a showcase day at least twice a month that is filled with Stakes races for all divisions like on Triple Crown days.  Currently, we see tracks offer similar races in different parts of the country as we just saw with the San Pasqual and the Donn Handicap.  Both are at 1 1/8 miles on dirt and carry a $500,000 purse.  Why can't they have a schedule that would have the best horses from both coasts in one race for all divisions instead of splitting them up? 

Let's see if this will wake up some race tracks to work together to schedule a list of big day events throughout the year to help the industry as a whole.  All the food truck festivals, concerts or even Pick 6 carryovers will not and has not increased attendance over the years as it has fallen along with handle.  The industry was lucky to have a day like February 7 and one they should have more often if race tracks are willing to work together instead of only for themselves.