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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Take The Long View

Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend. One more day in cool but abundantly sunny Florida (Gulf coast; no Gulfstream, too far from Tampa), and then I'll be home and back to my usual blabbering. I actually did get to look at Sunday and Monday's Aqueduct cards in a fair amount of detail. Just nothing stood out for me to give out any losers, not even close, really.

My initial thought when I learned that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would, if all goes well, indeed meet in the rescheduled Apple Blossom on April 9, was that it was typical of this industry that the long anticipated matchup would occur on a Friday afternoon. But, on second thought, it probably doesn't really matter; and with a little thought, ingenuity, and long-term thinking, perhaps the industry can use it to advantage.

For one thing of course, the next thing I read about a network actually picking the race up for telecast will be the first. If the race is limited to the racing channels and simulcast outlets, it obviously won't matter when it's run. But the sad fact is that, even if the race was to be run on Saturday, not a whole lot of people other than the usual suspects would tune in anyway. I'm afraid that, unlike us, the nation is not waiting with baited breath to see these two fillies meet. Most people don't even know who they are.

Marketing demands a longer term view, and I'm afraid that it seems a proven fact that beating people over the head, telling them how great the sport is and how fantastic a particular race is going to be just does not work for races not named the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont. With that in mind, I hope that the NTRA and the industry does not do what I suspect they surely will (since thought, ingenuity, and the long-term view is not part of their package). (And I'm assuming, for this discussion, that the race is televised, probably on one of ESPN or NBC's minor outlets, like ESPN Classic or the hideous Bravo.)

What we'll probably see is Oaklawn run the race as late in the day as possible - the final race, when the card is not canceled, generally goes off at around 5:30 local time, which would put it in the faux prime-time of 6:30 back east. That will be accompanied by a full-out advertising effort for the "race for the ages," and some insufferable shill like Tessitore screaming about oh my, how fucking exciting this is.

I think that would be a mistake. There's a very good reason why politicians make announcements of things they don't want to be noticed on late Friday afternoons. (It doesn't always work.) I would instead go for the emphasis on the news cycle rather than the live event, which, seriously, nobody other than the already converted is really going to run home in time to watch anyway. Just forget about ratings and run the race early in the program and concentrate instead on having the race hit the evening news programs and the Saturday papers. Those of us who really want to see it will find a way. And, just maybe, seeing and hearing about this great matchup run on a Friday afternoon will give the matter a little aura and buzz, maybe even achieve viral status, and help build some anticipation for the races down the road.

Because this is not a "race for the ages." It's an early season matchup between two horses unlikely to be at their peak form and, in theory of course, the beginning of a series of races and a narrative leading up to the true climactic showdown at Churchill in November. It should be presented exactly that way. It's possible that a true rivalry between the two, complete with storylines, triumphs and setbacks, could help lift the sport out of the doldrums (or at least help it poke it's little snout above the waterline). But there is no rivalry as of yet; this race would only be the first step. If it's built up out of proportion, it may not achieve the desired results. Especially if Zenyatta kicks her butt. The public doesn't care about whiny excuses even if they're legitimate equine ones, and especially not from a whiny complainer like Jess Jackson. If this is the "race for the ages," how would you then promote the next one if this one doesn't live up to its billing?

- Governor Paterson is set to release the bid documents from the five Aqueduct bidders today (I guess Steve Wynn is off the hook), complete with redactions of items that the bidders consider confidential or proprietary. Who cares, I say; what I want to see is the Lottery Divison's evaluations of those bids, and where and how they ranked the winning bidder. Guess we'll have to wait for the Inspector General's report to see those.


Anonymous said...

The Masters starts 4/8/2010 and it might be Tigers return. How stupid our they to run this race on a Friday afternoon ? This is where stories go to die. If Tiger is playing(we don't know for sure) this race will get no news unless there is a (I hate to say this) tragedy.
This sport continues to shoot itself in the foot. I still love it, but it is dying and it is self afflicted.

Anonymous said...

sorry, that should have been "inflicted"

Anonymous said...

I for one as a racing fan would like to see these two horses meet and I believe it is a great thing if Oaklawn can pull it off. Thankfully the owner of Oaklawn Park does not share Alan's negativity. And Yes Alan you are correct that the general public will not care too much about this matchup, but so what ? Since when does the general public care about horse racing except for maybe the first Saturday in May ? The two camps have 60 days and a prep race to get their mares into peak condition (or close to it) and if the mares really are all time greats that should be enough time to put on a great performance. You're in sunny Florida Alan ! Let's try and be a little more poitive

Anonymous said...

Second time I've seen you use the term "baited breath." It's probably acceptable but there was a mare Bated Breath that ran in the midwest around 1950 and that's the spelling that has stuck with me. Also if you search pedigreequery there are three listings for Bated Breath and zero for Baited Breath.

What if they were to get Tiger's wife(ex?) to present the trophy to the winner of the Apple Blossom?


El Angelo said...

The only remote shot the sport has at capturing the public's attention is in an already big race, which is the BC Classic. Outside of that, there's just no context for people who don't follow racing.

Anonymous said...

I go to a racetrack or OTB for one purpose only: to hopefully make money; and, I believe just about all other people who are drawn to a racetrack possess the same desire.

A RA/Zen race is of no interest to me, as there is no possible financial gain for me.

The purse of $5,000,000 is insane, and constitutes a huge giveaway; fifty stake races with a purse of $100,000 could be offered instead - races that would attract quality thoroughbreds, perk the interest of bettors, improve the financial status of numerous owners, trainers, and jockeys; and certainly be of far more interest to bettors and fans than one two minute race.

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing people say " they " made a stupid decision to run this race on a Friday. Who are these ubiquitous " they " we're often referring to? Are they the same ones that knew?

They, in this case, is one man, a man who, like him or not, put up his own money for what is sure to be a money loser. He/They can run this race whenever the hell he wants, and certainly has the right to run it when it suits him best, and being that he was given a VERY small window, he picked the best day that worked for all parties.

However, I think Alan makes an excellent point about running it early for widest dissemination later that day and over the weekend. And, please spare me the " how could they run it versus the Masters " mumbo jumbo. Are you saying if the Masters was another weekend the game would be saved?

Rachel/Zenyatta will be great for all of us racing fans, and relaively meaningless for most others, as Alan makes another good point....a rivalry of some kind COULD have some positive repurcussions....but one race aint changin' nuttin.....whether you run it on a Saturday during the greatest Sports lull in history, or on Tuesday at 3am.

By the way, who is paying attention to the Masters anyway? Isn't the Rachel Alexandra of the Links currently holed up rehabbing in the same part of the country Rachel is putting on her game face?

John Daly said...

Rachel of the links would certainly not be Tiger. Maybe Annika Sorenstam, more likely Se Ri Pak.

Anonymous said...

Did he ever offer an explanation for running on Friday.

I presume it is simply to offset some of the cost with an increased gate, since the place will already be filled to the brim the next day for the Arkansas Derby, or perphaps the powers that be simply did not want to impact the "excitement" of the nationwide Derby prep schedule.

Should have just run it on Saturday right AFTER the Derby preps (which will be on national TV Correct?). This would have given greater exposure to not only the blooming rivalry but the Derby prep races themselves, synergy.

I will stuck in traffic somewhere when these two great fillies pop the gate as will many others, how is that good for the game?

Anonymous said...

Nice double-standard there, Alan. Jackson is a whiner and the Mosses are these mega-classy dudes. Starting to wonder if your excellent blog has jumped the shark. -JP

Alan Mann said...

>>Nice double-standard there, Alan.

Well, fair point, but I've never claimed that I'm totally objective here. I simply don't like Jess Jackson, while I have nothing against Jerry Moss, except for all of the bad music that the Police put out after Zenyatta Mondatta.

OK, that's pretty bad too. :-/

Sloan Kettering said...

The moss family is pure class. Jacksons not so much. It's all good.... Money can't buy class.

El Angelo said...

Does anyone at DRF fact check? From the article up now on Buddy's Saint:

"Buddy's Saint has won all three of his starts, all at age 2."

Wholly incorrect--he was DQ'd from his maiden race.

Anonymous said...

The Moss's act at the Eclipse awards hardly smacked of " all class. "

Then again, we're all so perfect that it's easy to see the deficiencies of others.

Anonymous said...

My theory is that Jess Jackson is still bitter at those shady Kentucky pinhookers who were always ripping him off. But he didn't get mad, he got even. But that created some enemies who are still sniping at him.

Good for him, those KY breeders expected to take him the way they have the Dubai crowd, and he called them on it. He sees the racing media as exploiters of him and his top quality stock.

The whining charges apparently didn't have much impact on the media when Rachel received the HOY Eclipse. Credit one back to media on that score. No, I think Jess Jackson has been good for racing and should be commended for it.

I am sure that Rachel will meet Zenyatta this year, sometime, some place. Hopefully it will be a 3 race series over, say, 6 months, so each is not penalized by an off race day. Saratoga would be a great venue in August. /S/greenmtnpunter

Anonymous said...

It's unlikely they will meet more than once, or perhaps twice if you include the BC Classic.

Oaklawn is the only track who is capable of coming up with that kind of dough and it's just a local philanthropist. Otherwise this wouldn't happen in the first place. -JP