It’s just about time for me to head out to Vegas and the NTRA marketing meeting. I leave on Sunday and we should be presenting our ideas on Monday. One of the main themes I’ll be focusing on is the idea I’ve mentioned briefly in previous posts called “Take Back Saturday.” In short, it’s an idea for regularly scheduled Saturday programming telling a continuous, compelling story from the Triple Crown through the Breeder’s Cup. Accessibility and Relevance are key themes that I’ll be playing on. This Saturday is a prime example of what I’ll be talking about.
Take a look at how many relatively “big name” horses are running in various races around the country; Indian Blessing in the Gallant Bloom, Commentator in the Mass Cap, Proud Spell in the Cotillion, Macho Again in the Super Derby. While the names are familiar, mostly they are running in less well-known stakes races (not to take anything away from them – just saying they aren’t the most familiar). What would you tell a casual fan, or a coworker, or a family member that wasn’t familiar with horse racing about these races? Why do they matter? Why are they being run? Why should they care?
The answers to those questions are varied. Many are running in prep races for the annual Breeder’s Cup championship weekend in October at Santa Anita. Others are running just to keep in racing shape. Obviously they are all running for purse money. Still the central question remains – do these races matter?
Most likely only the most seasoned horse racing fans would answer with a resounding yes, and therein lies part of the problem. The central question we’ve been posed in the NTRA group is to figure out ways that horse racing can attract a new generation of fans. It goes without saying that there are larger concerns the sport must address beyond simply adding context to races like the Mass Cap and Super Derby if it wishes to resonate with a new generation. Nearly all existing fans of the sport are outspoken in their desire to see steroids and other drugs banned from the game. Every person I’ve spoken with desires better care of horses, both during their racing career and after.
We’ve been instructed that these issues are well known and essentially beyond the scope of the group’s objective. In other words, if we get up and simply say “ban drugs from the sport”, we’ll be met with a chorus of “okays” and “great, we’ll get right on that” – but the issues are larger than anything we can hope to solve as a handful of fans. I’m level setting a bit here because while these are some of the issues/concerns most near-and-dear to our hearts, they won’t be the focus of our presentation. Instead, we’ve focused on “actionable” ideas that can be implemented almost immediately – leaving some of the larger elephants in the room to be just that – elephants in the room.
All of this brings me back to context and the Take Back Saturday idea. While many of “us” understand the different paths that runners of various “divisions” take in their annual campaigns, to the casual fan or first time viewer, the picture must look as confusing as can be. Complicating matters is the fact that many such races are only available on channels like TVG and/or HRTV. Let me be clear – I’m a TVG junkie. There’s no channel that gets more continuous play on our family television (accept for when my 4-year-old demands to watch “Sprout”, of course). That being said, it’s a channel for fairly hardcore fans, I think we’d all agree. The idea with Take Back Saturday is to present a weekly program of marquee racing, on a nationally televised station like ESPN. The program would be focused a bit more on telling human/equine interest stories of the competitors involved. Coupled with the standings initiative some of my fellow attendees will be discussing, we’ll be able to more succinctly focus on “why” a particular race matters and is worth following. That’s the plan at least. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and there’s a host of other ideas we’ll be talking about, but that’s a bit of a teaser for now without letting the whole cat out of the bag.
As for Saturday’s races – Commentator is the Beyer speed figures in the Mass Cap. I liked Cuba on Monmouth Stakes day, but he appears outclassed here. I still expect him (Cuba) to hit he board though. Dr. Pleasure and Won Awesome Dude are logical underneath plays as well. I’ll go 2/3,4/3,4,6 ($4) in the Mass Cap.
In the Super Derby I’m going to take a shot with the fast improving Forest Command, a 3-year-old son of Monarchos out of Forest Secrets. I’ve got nothing against the favored Macho Again – after all he was the key to a rather lucrative Preakness trifecta along with Big Brown and Icabad Crane, but he turns in some clunkers along the way. If Macho Again shows up as the same horse he was in the Jim Dandy, this one’s academic. If he shows up as the horse we saw in the Travers, he might be had. I’ll take the slightly longer morning line odds on Forest Command (3/1) over Macho Again (5/2). Star Production, My Pal Charlie, and Mambo Meister are the others I like in here. Post parade will decide how I’ll ultimately play this one, but right now I see it as 10/3,7/2,3,4,7 ($6) in the Super Derby.
The Gallant Bloom and Fitz Dixon Cotillion appear to be mismatches. Proud Spell should romp in the Cotillion and Indian Blessing should crush the field in the Gallant Bloom – especially at the 6 1/2 furlong distance. I don’t believe trifecta wagering will be available in the Gallant Bloom as we’ve only got a field of 5 runners, but in the Cotillion I’d play By the Light and Seattle Smooth in place and toss in Never Retreat for show: 6/4,7/3,4,7 ($4)
Best of luck to everyone. I’ll try and get some messages through once we’re done in Vegas – and I’ll give you the full recap once I get back in town in the middle of next week.