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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tough to Market in a Vacuum

- Somebeachsomewhere won the $1.5 million Pepsi NA Cup at Mohawk Raceway on Saturday with another absolutely effortless mile in 1:49. Even if you're not a harness fan, I suggest that you go to 3:18 on this replay and check out the iso camera of his stretch run. With driver/trainer Paul MacDonell just lightly tapping his rear with his whip, the son of Mach Three strode out powerfully and with astonishing ease against what I understand to be a pretty talented field of three-year old pacers. "He's big...he's strong....and he's got it going on!" exclaimed track announcer Ken Middleton as Somebeachsomewhere came ambling home.

The track, located in Campbellville, Ontario, around 25 miles from Toronto, no longer keeps attendance figures, but it was said to be "wall-to-wall" with an estimated crowd of 11,000. This is an undefeated (in nine starts) horse who is evoking the kind of genuinely heartfelt reaction from the public that I felt was notably absent around Big Brown.

People came from everywhere. James Bragg, the blueberry, lumber and telecommunications king from Halifax, came by Lear jet. There were supposed to be busloads of people from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but many drove on their own, and hang the gasoline prices [well over $5 per gallon in Canada - ed.].
Back home in Nova Scotia, there were "beach parties" with people crowding in front of large television screens to see the colt. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
“The crowd was so into it,” MacDonell said. “I let him walk up the rail. He puts his head down and looks at the crowd, and he’s so calm. The people love him and he loves the people; it’s a two-way street." Somebeachsomewhere is owned by six small time Nova Scotians who bought him as a yearling for $40,000 when other would-be bidders in Kentucky were scared away...because he was coughing during the sale. [Toronto Star]

That's certainly a far more endearing story than that of Big Brown. And I think that certainly matters in terms of what degree a horse is embraced by the public. I never got the feeling that there was anything more than a fascination with Big Brown's seemingly enormous talent and his chance to make history at play in the public reaction during his Triple Crown run; and that's just amongst those of us who looked past his connections and actually rooted for him to win. The horse received cheers at Belmont as the anticipation for an epic moment built; but I didn't sense any real affection for the horse himself in the joint (though maybe that was just me projecting how I felt on everyone else).

Of course, a huge difference between the trotters and the flats is that harness horses can run back far more frequently (even multiple heats in one day). This was Somebeachsomwhere's third race at Mohawk in three weeks, so he was quite familiar to the fans, and had clearly earned the accolades.

With thoroughbreds running more and more infrequently, it's obviously hard for any of them to gain any following outside devoted fans. There's been a lot of discussion this week about the lack of TV coverage of Curlin on Saturday, along with criticism of the NTRA for not making a marketing effort. But I think this was an extremely hard sell to anyone who's not a devoted fan of the sport. Curlin hadn't raced in this country in almost eight months, and his serious competitors from that time are all retired. He has no rivals; hell, he doesn't even have any competition, since any horse with anywhere near his ability is generally long retired at this stage (as long as he still retains all of his original packaging of course).

Certainly, there would be far more interest and, therefore, more demand for media coverage of Curlin's races if he raced more often, toting increasing imposts, taking on all comers at tracks around the country, and perhaps even attracting a fearless nemesis or two. But since that's hardly the case, why would there have been any demand in the mainstream media for coverage of the Foster? Whatsmore, we're told that he'll be shipped off to the Arc, which would almost certainly preclude his running in the Classic 20 days later. And then he'll be retired. So what was the hook or the context of the race?

As with his thoroughbred counterparts, Somebeachsomewhere will almost certainly be retired after his three-year old season. That part of the business is the same in both breeds. However, he's already attracted a lot of attention for a sport starving for it, and one of his owners remarked that he could race another dozen times this year, for a total of 15 in 2008. That may not be a lot in historic terms - the mighty Niatross, to whom this colt is already drawing comparisons, raced 26 times in his sophomore season. But it's still easily more than twice as many times that we could ever expect to see our thoroughbred stars in one year these days. It wasn't always that way, but it certainly is now, and there's no sign of the trend to less racing and early retirements reversing anytime soon. The NTRA can only market so much if there's nothing much to market.

- Somebeachsomewhere gets a break now, and I'm happy to report that his next scheduled appearance is right here! He's being pointed to the Meadowlands Pace eliminations on Saturday, July 12 (if there are enough horsemen brave enough to take him on and necessitate those heats), with the final scheduled for the following week.


Patrick J Patten said...

Thanks for the link, and the more you talk about this horse makes me want to go see my first ever standardbred race day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you just gave me an excuse to head out to the Big M.

Anonymous said...

Add me to the list, need something to root for with zero chance of seeing Big Brown or Curlin again in this country, and my Mets embarrassing themselves on and off the field.

Have not been to the Big M in a long long time, but going to try to get there for this one.

Keep us appraised.

Anonymous said...

btw, thought they could have marketed the Curlin-Einstein match up, best dirt horse vs. best Turf horse trying the dirt.

The latter gave a very good account of himself, still not sure why they were not coupled though.

Anonymous said...

pulling a buggy while jogging a mile is alot different then carrying weight on your back while running a mile

Anonymous said...

Harness horses tend to have dumb names.
I think it hurts the sport.
There was one on TV with a horse named Viagra, or Viagra something.
There used to be about 500 Hanovers.
Give the horses more appealing names and they will have at least a little more staure among potential fans.