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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Blogs By Any Other Name

- We’re starting to see more racing blogs associated with mainstream publications and organizations, most notably the Daily Racing Form’s ‘FormBlog,’ and it’s nice to see that the industry is starting to wake up and smell the roses, rather than just the run to them. On the other hand, blogs that are run by industry stalwarts are unlikely to provide the kind of objective, incisive, and, when necessary, critical look at the news that has made blogs such an important alternative to mainstream news coverage. Dan Illman has thus far proven to be knowledgeable and engaging, but I don’t expect that you’ll see anything more than gentle chiding of his Form colleagues, nor any industry criticism that goes beyond what you’d see in a Steve Crist column, if that.

Some so-called blogs are proving to be little more than marketing tools. Prime examples are the two harness racing blogs I link to in the sidebar – Free-Legged and Racing Room. They are both written by employees of the US Trotting Association; in fact, Free-Legged is written by Dean Hoffman, the organization’s Director of Planning, and a long-time editor of Hoof Beats, the trotting equivalent of Bloodhorse. So it should come as no surprise (or maybe it still should) that neither of these blogs have mentioned anything – not one single word! – about the Ledford scandal or suspensions.

The Lone Star Park Press Box Blog now graces the web pages of that Magna track’s website, and though it contains some helpful news and handicapping insights, they also take the opportunity to do promotions like: A crew from FOX 4 will be on hand to do a story on Lone Star's Easter Egg Hunt for Sunday night's news.

In an April 16 entry, What a Weekend!, the tracks communications director informs us that:

Another 12,564 attended Lone Star Park on Sunday, which brought the opening week total to 46,164. That's a 17.9% jump. Total handle was also up 5.6% to $10.8 million over Thursday through Sunday.
Nice numbers, though how much of it can be attributed to post-race concerts held on Friday and Saturday night, it doesn’t say.

Gary West in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Star-Telegram paints a very drastically different picture of the real state of the sport in the Lone Star state, which is surrounded by states with purses that have been driven higher by slots and, in the case of Oaklawn, Instant Racing. Trainer Bret Calhoun tells West: "I think it's pretty grim….I don't know how much longer the owners, trainers and breeders can hang on here."
By almost any measure, the horse racing industry in Texas is unhealthy. Buffeted on all sides by fierce competition, it's caught in a morbid spiral of declining numbers. The most telling, of course, are those numbers that monitor attendance and handle, or money wagered.

They're all tumbling at Texas' three major racetracks -- Lone Star, Sam Houston in Houston and Retama Park near San Antonio.

From 2001 to 2005, total attendance during thoroughbred season at those tracks declined 21.2 percent, from 1,067,357 to 840,923. And during the same period, the "live handle" -- money wagered at the tracks on live racing -- fell 32 percent, from $65,124,381 to $44,267,788, according to Texas Racing Commission data.

The handle determines the level of purses, or prize money, a racetrack can offer. And so the tumbling handle has dragged the purses down, too. Since 2001, thoroughbred purses at the three racetracks have dropped 11.4 percent, from $30,646,126 to $27,150,786. [Star-Telegram]
You likely won’t read this news on the Lone Star blog, and that’s to be expected. It is, after all, a device, run by and paid for by Magna, with which to promote their track. Likewise, you won’t soon see on the insidious Republican National Committee blog [proceed with’ve been warned] a running count of American casualties in Iraq (it’s at least 2,372), nor a list of the lies that got us there. But that’s fine too….just consider the source, and its purpose. After all, anyone has the right to write about (or not) whatever they want, but the term “blog,” as we’ve grown to know and love it, is being misused. Perhaps “propblog” or simply “plog” would be a better designation for sites that are little more than propaganda.

- Though the official workout times were both a bullet (of 24) 59 1/5, Haskin reports that Bob Baffert got Bob and John in :58 4/5, and Point Determined in 1:00 1/5.
Although nothing has been firmed up yet, it looks as if Gomez will stick with Bob and John for the Derby and Rafael Bejarano will ride Point Determined. That could leave the mount on Sinister Minister open for Espinoza, who piloted War Emblem to a wire-to-wire victory for Baffert in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. [Bloodhorse]


Anonymous said...

...i cut my teeth @ Sam Houston, and i can verify that it's a poorly-run operation...they've always been FAR more concerned with having country music concerts after the races (which they use as an excuse to double admission prices), or coming up with new ways to squeeze every last penny out of the suckers (errrr, i mean customers) than they are about the quality of racing, which is gawd-awful...if it weren't for simulcasting, there would be absolutely no reason to go there...sad but me, Texas would seem a natural place to have high-quality horseracing, and i had high hopes when they got into the racing business, but there's no disputing it's been a complete and utter least Lone Star Park was able to host a nice Breeders Cup, not that any Breeders Cup-quality horses would ever be caught dead in Texas otherwise...

...oh, here's a funny story for ya...when they first opened Retama (i don't think they'd been open more than a week), there was an incident where apparently someone in the TV room was watching porn, and i guess he must've hit the wrong button or something because the porn was being broadcast on tv's all around the track...and when they finally shut it off (it lasted several minutes), there was loud booing, with people screaming "Put it back! Put it back!"...

t said...

We've already got the splog (spam-blog), and the plog seems a slightly less offensive version. Instead of tricking into their clearly fake blog to harvest quick click through revenue, the plog offers content that may be tainted by the author's employer.

As in Illman's case, he's sticking very close to the safty of handicapping. That's one area where you can have outlandish ideas and not upset any constituency.

I'd be inclined try to draw him out on a topic or two to see if he's got the balls--or absence of drf sensors.

Stephen Colbert, now there's a guy with huge balls. If you don't believe me, just ask him.

Michael said...

In these cases, I don't know if it's fair to call what Illman and Co. write a "blog." I think a better moniker would be: "online column."

suebroux said...

... blogs that are run by industry stalwarts are unlikely to provide the kind of objective, incisive, and, when necessary, critical look at the news that has made blogs such an important alternative to mainstream news coverage.

Uh oh ... We all know about my objectivity and incisive look that makes my blog such an abounding source of fact. I'm sure if someone actually took the time, they could probably count how many facts I have disseminated over the past few months. Last count: 3.

But seriously, individuals who write blogs each have a unique approach to the subject matter. LATG is first rate with information and your research and writing is worth every penney we pay you, or should pay you anyway. And yes, Lone Star Park's media blog is rather fluffy, but they are taking a step - albeit a baby step - in the direction of saying, "Look all you yokels out there with internet connection! We are out here and we want to communicate with you!" Okay, nobody really gives two hoots about Newy Scruggs eating at the Silks on Easter Sunday, but there is still a level of accessibility for the fan who would like to know more. More about horse racing as a sport. More about horse racing as a wagering opportunity. More about horse racing as entertainment. The Racing Congress griped about the lack of written information in print. Blogs, whether they are wise and informative as this one, or nothing more than a marketing tool such as LSP's media blog, still provide service to our great sport.