- This is the greatest race I've ever seen.
There have been even closer finishes; and there was no Triple Crown at stake. But the drama of the great racemare (she was not an Eclipse champion until after her subsequent retirement) toiling on a wet racetrack she did not like, trying to go out undefeated in her 13th and final start, seemingly beaten with the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors winging it on an uncontested lead.... Did any of you think she had a shot in the world at the quarter pole? The eighth pole? The sixteenth pole? It was, given the epic drama of the situation, and as I said, the greatest race I've ever seen.
However, if the Distaff had been run on a Friday afternoon that year, or even early evening, as will now be the case in its new incarnation as the Ladies' Classic (I wonder if they'll have any copyright issues with that), its quite possible that I would have been stuck at work, or on the E train trying to get home, and not been able to watch that all-time classic live. Or, back then in 1988, perhaps I would have found a crowded, smoke-filled OTB, or somehow happened upon a bar that was willing to put on horse racing.
I'm reminded of a column that Steve Crist wrote in December in reaction to the three new races to be introduced this year:
Yet the dominant reaction seems to be that this sextet is a dark development for American racing that in some way dilutes or detracts from the "real" Breeders' Cup the next afternoon. That will be the case only if the Breeders' Cup makes one of two mistakes with these new races going forward: attempts to brand them as global championships, or lobbies for a raft of new Eclipse Awards to make actual champions out of the leaders of secondary divisions in the sport. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]I think that the Breeders' Cup is in danger of running afoul of the first of those conditions by intermixing consolation races such as the Dirt Mile or the Marathon with the real things. It of course remains to be seen how the Breeders' Cup and ESPN will present the day's races, and perhaps they'll be billed as preliminary affairs. But I'd guess that they won't be. [I'd be interested in getting some futures odds on the Marathon being won by a horse who'd won for a claiming tag of $40K or less in the prior 12 months, and is trained by Gary Contessa or Richard Dutrow]
Crist argued that the races should be kept separate, and that Friday's races should not be referred to as World Championship races.
The unwieldy and unjustified extended name should be quietly dropped in general, and certainly never raised in connection with the new races. They are interesting little events for specialists outside the mainstream, and no one would have the slightest objection to Friday's Turf Sprint or Marathon if they were named for landmarks or famous horses.It's not out of the question that one of the new races will some day produce a truly memorable moment. But I'd agree that none of them (with the possible potential exception of the F&M Sprint) are championship caliber. And now, at least three races that truly are will be run on Friday. That could make them far less accessible, especially to those who won't be putting forth the effort to seek them out, and threatens to make the Ladies second class citizens.
Or, maybe not. At least for the next two years anyway. Because, even though I'd still prefer to have the true championship races segregated and run on Saturday, the fact that the races are on the West Coast gives the Breeders' Cup and ESPN the opportunity to present a prime time extravaganza. Since there are only five races on Friday, they could start as late as 4:30 local time. 7:30 for us; not so early for those of you out west, but I guess you guys are used to that, eh? (I never adjusted to the time zone when I was at Del Mar this past summer, because I'd get to the track and it would be the 9th from Saratoga on TV. I was stuck on Eastern Track Time.) But back here, the races could go on until 9:30 or 10.
I wrote last year that the Breeders' Cup would have been well served by a prime time lead-in, perhaps at half time of Monday Night Football, and here's a great opportunity to not only have a preview of the big races, but some of the real thing. Is there a grand plan for ESPN to give up a night of World Series talk or preseason NBA games in order to carry a night of championship racing? Hopefully with online contests to encourage non-fans to join the action for free? BC President Greg Avioli said: "The initial response from the Breeders' Cup family, including ESPN, our marketing partners, nominators, and Trustees has been extremely supportive and enthusiastic." But will ESPN be supportive and enthusiastic enough to promote the Friday card from ESPN2 to the main stage and make it the big deal that it should be? And in prime time as it could be?