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Racing, Bad & Good: The (Ongoing) Life At Ten Fiasco and Mike Repole

Sums up just about everything to do with racing authorities in the USAfter much (too much) waiting, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission released its report on the Life At Ten Breeders’ Cup Situation last night.  The report itself doesn’t say much that hasn’t already been said, although some points simply boggle the mind – these are just a few particularly disturbing ones:

  • No one in the stewards’ office keeps an eye on either the television broadcast or social media for the Breeders’ Cup?  Granted, the stewards themselves have a job to watch what they see themselves on the track (p. 6), but there’s never been the equivalent of a researcher or intern to do this for such a big event?  That makes the office seem beyond old media – if they couldn’t even catch up to television at some point in the last 20 years, it’s hardly surprising that technology in general seems to have passed them by – but that’s hardly acceptable.  The KHRC did make a recommendation that ‘KHRC should consider requiring the Stewards to monitor television coverage prior to a race.’ (p. 18) – shouldn’t they have made that suggestion in the 1980s (or before)?
  • Life At Ten didn’t have blood drawn or her temperature taken until the following day (p. 13), after what was clearly a sub-par and thoroughly unexpected performance? I know low-level claimers who would have had more extensive immediate examinations after throwing in a more minor clunker – for a top-class filly going into the race as the overwhelming favorite, this is simply bizarre.  Granted, there were plenty of vets on hand who were (presumably) watching her movements closely for injury (at least after the race), but why was there no in-depth panel of tests done immediately once injury had been ruled out?
  • The ‘no room in the testing barn’ scenario: as per Breeders’ Cup protocol, only the top four finishers in the race had post-race testing for banned substances.  The stewards apparently decided that the testing barn was probably too full to add another horse (despite her inexplicable performance), and seemed to just leave things there – no one bothered to even radio down to explore the possibility (p. 20) – granted, that might have involved the use of Devil Technology, which was clearly beyond them.  This led to my favorite sentence in the entire report:

    All three Stewards regretted their lack of action in this matter.

    Thanks, guys!

  • Jockey Johnny Velazquez was among those singled out for his ‘misdeeds’ – much to the ire of his attorney and longtime horse owner, Maggi Moss.  While I would have preferred he had at least had a word with the vets at the gate, to expect the jockey on the favorite for one of the richest races of the year to make the decision to have the horse potentially scratched seems unlikely.  Imagine the career repercussions for a less well-known jockey if he’d had an (apparently) reasonably-well horse scratched, losing out on a potential bundle of cash for the other connections involved – for whom would that jockey ever ride again at that level?

In short, very little concrete or useful came out of this report – it’s another opportunity to get things right that the racing Powers That Be have blown in spectacular fashion.

But it’s not all gloom and doom – despite the shenanigans detailed above, the sport is still attracting new owners who realize that there can be another way.  Mike Repole, owner of Uncle Mo, has spoken out before about the effect early retirements have on racing, and in a Q&A this week with the DRF, he made a number of good points.  This large chunk is worth quoting, as it echoes much of what many of us have been saying for years (only he has deeper pockets):

I think racing is the worst marketed sport in the history of sports. If not for the passion of the fans, the sport wouldn’t exist. Racing has done almost everything wrong to the fan, and for some reason the fan sticks around. Any track can do whatever they want. There’s no governing body like NASCAR or the NFL, no one person to go to. It would take me a year to turn it around. You start with the fan. Everything else comes underneath. The fan who shows up with $20 in his pocket is just as, if not more, important than the gambler who shows up with $2,000. Racing doesn’t get that. It’s all about the handle. All the brands I’ve built are about education, awareness, and trial. This sport doesn’t educate owners or fans. Awareness? Ask people what they think about racing, and it’s a 77-year-old man smoking a cigar, or a blue blood from Kentucky. Is that perception or reality? You have to change that.

He also mentions two of my favorite issues – the total lack of decent food and a pleasant environment at many tracks – and it would be lovely if someone actually took that on board and did something with it.  While I disagree with him about making any changes to the Triple Crown, I’m happy to know that there are 1) people under 60 and 2) people with ideas still drawn to the sport.  We don’t need to agree on everything, but we do need to move things forward together – the Life At Ten report is enough evidence that the status quo is a joke.

Good luck to Uncle Mo this weekend!

5 comments to Racing, Bad & Good: The (Ongoing) Life At Ten Fiasco and Mike Repole

  • I think racing is the worst marketed sport in the history of sports….The fan who shows up with $20 in his pocket is just as, if not more, important than the gambler who shows up with $2,000.

    That’s hilarious, truly. Wake me up when $20 gets you anywhere near any big league sporting events in the USA. As a fan of the Mets, Dolphins and Knicks….$20 just to get in are long gone dreams from a decade ago when I could actually carry my own beer into the park which, BTW, I can still do at the track.

    Last summer I saw the reigning horse of the year, the future 3-year-old champion and the future horse of year all up close at the track – so close I could touch them. All for less than $5.

    This is just another person in the long, long queue of racing fans who are very quick to criticize but have absolutely zero viable, realistic solutions to very real problems. Just change it because it’s not working they say.

  • If you go back a few years what Repole said is almost an exact recapitulation of what Halsey Minor said about the sport.
    And what happened after Minor said it…nothing

  • admin

    I think it was had for Minor to get much done with his legal/financial problems, but you’re right that people have certainly been saying these things for a while without much happening. It’s why the sport needs a Don Garber.

    And sure, racing is cheap as far as access to stars (as long as they are around), but it doesn’t compare to soccer in the US for that. Where else can you shout abuse 3 feet from David Beckham or Thierry Henry for less than $20? I get to do it regularly!

  • Dan

    Personal notes from Santa Anita 3/12:

    Many tall women in spandex and knee high boots. Bought niece a beer and hotdog– $11. Bet Priemer Pegasus, paid $16.60.

    Thing to do next time: smuggle vodka and cranberry in thermos.

    (Meet the needs of the crowd and they show up! )

  • james h.

    i think racing isn’t as heavily marketed as say NASCAR is maybe because organizers aren’t as aggressive in their efforts or maybe he sport tends to veer towards the more traditional side…imo but it depends. i was at last year’s Melbourne Cup and was quite frankly impressed…

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