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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Best Possible Result for Racing

Undoubtedly, some will disagree, believing that a Triple Crown winner is the most desirable outcome, but Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness win—with Mine That Bird validating his Derby victory with an outstanding second—is really the best possible result for the sport.

Think about it: if Rachel hadn’t shown up and if Mine That Bird had won the Preakness, would Katie Couric’s CBS Evening News have had a follow-up story Monday night about a race which wasn’t even covered on their network? (Okay, no snotty comments about Katie’s low ratings—I’m just making a point about a broader mass media appeal.) Especially in the United States today, a “girl vs. boys” story has legs, and this one—if promoted correctly by horse racing’s numerous entities—can draw fans to the sport.

Some scoff at the “battle of the sexes” angle, but, come on, that’s Public Relations 101: market to the lowest common denominator by making the story as simple for them to understand as possible. Isn’t that why the Breeders’ Cup renamed the Distaff, now the Ladies’ Classic? Does that mean we have to like it? Hell no. But, let’s face it—horse racing is now less popular than ultimate fighting, poker and college lacrosse (if ESPN's priorities are any indication).

Is it mere coincidence that the Preakness television ratings were way up? 27% over last year’s heavily-hyped Big Brown, to be precise. Even admitted non-fans were impressed by the coverage and women have been particularly drawn in by Rachel Alexandra’s story. Hell, Hillary Clinton even brought up Rachel Alexandra during her commencement address at Barnard College on Monday!

A number of female bloggers—myself, Brooklyn Backstretch, Green but Game, Railbird and Superfecta—have been particularly vocal about marketing this sport to women. If, as the US census says, there are more women in the United States than men (as of October 1, 2008, it was 154.7 million to 150.6 million), then why isn’t there a stronger push to bring them into the sport?

Women don’t gamble as much as men? Excuse me?!? In my small city there is a Bingo game every single night of the week, and they don’t play for nickels and dimes anymore. I personally know older women who blow through $100+ a night playing Bingo, and then there are those who play the slots with equal vigor. If only they were introduced to fundamentals of handicapping...women live longer than men; there are twice as many women as men aged 85+. And talk about a built-in audience! More young girls than young boys are horse-crazy. Don’t believe it? Just look at toys like My Pretty Pony and books like The Saddle Club, Pony Pals and the classics such as Black Stallion, et al. Women are the future of horse racing, and now is the time a comprehensive strategy is developed to draw them in. That means real reforms too because women won't tolerate the inconsistencies, the blurred ethics, the flat-out bullshit that goes on. That's a fact.

Before I get off my soapbox, just one more bit of info to highlight here. In case you missed it, the filly Sangseung Ilro is on track to win the Korean Triple Crown after taking the second jewel, the G1 Korean Derby, over thirteen male competitors. Fellow TBA blogger Horse Racing in Korea has an excellent posting on her victory, as well as video of the race.

Back to the Preakness...poor Mine That Bird is still not getting any respect. Now Mike Smith says he won’t ride the gelding in the Belmont as he’s committed to Madeo in the G1 Whittingham at Hollywood that day. Excuse me? Rather than ride a strong contender in one of the classic American races, you’re going to ride a grade 2 Del Mar Derby winner because of a commitment to ride first call for the Mosses and John Shirreffs? They wouldn’t understand Smith attempting to win his first Belmont? Wow! Throw in some casual commitment to ride Chocolate Candy in Belmont weeks ago, and Smith's in a no-win situation.

At least Mine That Bird’s success has rubbed off on his little half-brother, who sold for $483,000 at the Fasig-Tipton two-year-olds in training sale at Timonium on Monday. A son of Yonaguska (who also sired one of my personal favorites, Musket Man, and is standing in LA this year for $4,000), he was bought by Dogwood Stables, and will shipped to Saratoga where his trainer will be...Todd Pletcher. Well, isn’t that the kiss of death for his Triple Crown possibilities next year?

Okay, if I’m going to bitchy about The Toddster, let me also point out that this was Steve Asmussen’s second Preakness win in three years. In both instances Asmussen didn’t develop these horses from two-year-olds, but had them signed, sealed and delivered to him. And the master at developing and racing young horses, particularly fillies, Larry Jones is the one retiring at year’s end? Sad.

And what about Larry Jones saying after the Preakness, “That might have been our Triple Crown winner if they had run her in the Derby.”? Indeed, what if...


raypaulick said...

Interesting take on marketing to women. In the 1980s, when the Japan Racing Association went on a huge growth spurt, the JRA specifically targeted women, not because they would gamble as much or more than men but because a funny thing happens when events attract more women: more men also attend.

SaratogaSpa said...

You are right on with your take on women.

NBC had a perfect plan to market the Derby and Preakness to woman, duplicating the success they have had with marketing Olympic coverage to a female audience. If ABC is smart they will follow suit with promotion of the Belmont Stakes in the same fashion.

If you make it an "event" give it a great story and historical and relevant context, woman will flock to racing.

dana said...

rockin' post, as always!

I can't blame Smith for his choice, if I were him I wouldn't want to jeopardize my relationship with the Shireffs/Moss either. And besides, now maybe Sutherland will end up with mount on MTB!

Kevin Stafford said...

Much like Ray, I've been telling friends for years that if word got out properly about how many lovely ladies (of the human kind) attend classy horse races, every guy on earth would show up.

And what do guys do when we get around women we want to impress? Make fools of ourselves by wagering vast sums of money, of course.

Can't tell you how many cheap pick up attempts we laughed as guys bragged about "oh, yeah, you know...I'll probably drop about $2 grand on this race" (then they'd go on about how Take the Points couldn't lose...I feel for these guys, I really do). :-)

Great post, by the way (as always).

the Source of the James said...

Check out the latest world rankings of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.