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Monday, May 22, 2006

Bad Publicity is Bad Publicity

- We’ve seen some amazing photos of post-surgery Barbaro, and has a slide show of the whole sad saga, though it culminates with what we hope is the beginning of a happy ending. (It starts with a couple of photos of the horse on the track that you may want to skip.)

The Derby champ had a good night and what sounds like an even better day. You may have sees the photo of him eating right after returning to the stall (it’s the last photo in the slide show). As far as today:

Barbaro was trying to bite in his stall and even showing interest in a group of mares who stopped by to visit.

"There's some mares there, and he's extremely interested in the mares," Richardson told ABC's Good Morning America. []
Inevitably, we're starting to hear the calls for Polytrack, as Nick mentioned the other day. Pat Forde, writing for, prefaces his call for the synthetic surface by complaining about the way racing people are shrugging off tragedy with the "It's part of the game" line.
If there is one thing horse racing has proved completely inept at, it's fixing its own problems. This is the ultimate can't-do sport: bereft of a national governing body and generally lacking in leadership, cohesiveness, vision, adaptability, or a sound plan for connecting to the masses.

While racing execs are shrugging off Barbaro's breakdown, horrified casual fans are tuning out. Those who follow the sport three Saturdays a year are quite likely to follow it zero Saturdays from now on after watching Barbaro's grisly injury. If it's simply part of the game, hey, the viewing public can simply find another game to watch — one in which potential death and dismemberment are not common side effects. []
There’s a saying that goes “no publicity is bad publicity,” but I don’t believe that applies to stories like this, nor from all this mainstream coverage that the sport can’t seem to get when good things happen. Just the fact that I linked above to a story from NPR should tell you something; and can an interview with the head of PETA be far behind? The story has been on the front page of the NY Times for the last two days, and I saw a live interview with Dr. Richardson on CNN today. Yesterday, I had the most visitors to this site that I’ve ever had, and by a significant margin too. If you type in ‘Barbaro’ into Google News today, you come up with over 2800 stories. Fortunately, the latest of them inform us of relatively good news, but even if he does go on to a successful stallion career, that won’t erase the nasty images seen by millions of viewers.

Matt Hegarty writes in the Form this evening of the negative business implications of the breakdown, and how the industry is worrying about the numbers for the Belmont. But he quotes Chip Tuttle, a publicity consultant for NTRA, who says that things have improved since the screen was brought out on the track for Go For Wand.
"..The turning point really was 1990. That's when people in the industry realized that the key is to emphasize the extraordinary veterinary care these animals get on a regular basis, so that people know that this type of thing is tragic to everyone involved, and that this is not a regular phenomenon."
In that sense, I think that the industry has done a good job, though they certainly owe a lot of thanks to Barbaro, as well as to the skilled doctors at New Bolton, and all of those who have sent their well-wishes to the horse. (Imagine, sending well-wishes to a horse? Complete with "We Love You Barbaro" signs!) Frank Stronach's insensitive display of nonchalance aside, I think that the humane efforts on the horse's behalf have been the main focus of the stories. So maybe it isn't all bad.

I certainly agree that the Polytrack experiment should be expanded. I understand the unease of traditionalists, who worry about how we'll be able to put Polytrack racing into historical perspective with the years of traditional dirt. But I think those concerns have to take a back seat to the promise of a game with less breakdowns, possibly markedly so, and, equally if not more important from a marketing standpoint, more longevity for our stars. Or maybe I should just say 'more stars,' since most of the few we've had of late are of the shooting variety (and as far as older horses, rarely those that succeeded in Triple Crown races).

But I do think it would be a mistake to rush to a wholesale change. As impressive as the breakdown statistics were from Turfway, that’s just one meeting at one track. We don’t know if horses will perhaps be susceptible to some other kind of injuries over the long term. And what the hell is in that cloud of dust anyway?

- And here’s some more wonderful news. (Though fortunately, most casual fans will never hear about it.) Winning Preakness trainer Tom Albertrani began serving a 15-day suspension on Monday after one of his horses tested positive for the banned tranquilizer acepromazine. [DRF] He’ll be back on June 6, four days before the Belmont; maybe ABC will give us a break and not mention it to the intimate viewing audience they can expect, especially if Bernardini doesn’t run. We’re awaiting Sheikh Mohammed’s decision; if Walter can find a proposition on that one, I’ll bet that he doesn’t run, and prepares for a campaign leading up to the Breeders Cup instead.


Anonymous said...

NYRA might consider rolling back their prices to 2004 levels. I predict they won't get 40K.

Alan Mann said...

Good point; I'd forgotten about those price increases. Seems particularly inappropriate for this year now.

Anonymous said...

Drop the ban on beer also.

Belmont drew 60k last year (it seemed less), when Alex was an attraction and before many realized the prices had been increased and they could not bring beer. There were stacks of coolers outside the gate. Those people will not be back, and there is not a horse in the race with drawing power. NYRA has turned an up and coming event day into a non event in two years simply due to bad management. No surprise there.

40k may be on the high side.

Anonymous said...

Regarding polytrack, they seriously need to study the effects of inhaling that crap on the horses, and more importantly on the jocks that ride 9 times a day.

Safety could be enhanced at a much more reasonable cost if the tracks would just make the track deeper on an every day basis, similar to a training track. These horses also train on the same hard track in the mornings. Then they compound the problem on big race days by scraping the surface into a concrete highway.

No one gives a horses ass about raw times, the figures everyone uses now would adjust for the surface change in a day or two.

Good luck Friday, turf has turned many a slow horse into a useful horse.

Anonymous said...

Polytrack has turned handicappng on its ear. If you can travel a half-mile in :50 and finish towards the back of the field, how is one to handicap? What about the millions spent at the sales on speed? What about the styles of jockeys? Are we going to turn all of them into Pat Day? Where has the media been? Have they posted one poll, asking horseplayers if they prefer synthetic over traditional dirt? Keeneland is a corporation that wants to increase its stock value by selling Polytrack, which it now owns. They market it by telling racetracks they can save millions in maintenance costs. And they all hide behind the "safety" issue. The bottom line: They are turning racing and all its great tradtion upside-down in the name of greed.