Friday, September 27, 2013

The Best Sporting Event You Won't Watch on Saturday

It is the best of the sport; it is the worst of the sport.

On Saturday, Belmont Park will play host to what could prove to be the sport’s best day of action. With the exception of the Breeders’ Cup, no track will host five Grade I stakes – along with a Grade 2 stakes with a field to die for.

The Kentucky Derby winner Orb will be there. The Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice will be there. The best 3-year-old filly in training and Kentucky Oaks winner, Princess of Slymar, will be there to face the best older mare in training, Royal Delta. The Grade I winners of the Donn Handicap, Whitney Stakes and Woodward Stakes will be represented. Even a forgotten horse like Flat Out has a quite a story – he’ll be attempting to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the third year in a row, a feat not accomplished in some five decades.

In short, it is an amazing day of racing. But you won’t watch it.

orb winning
Oh sure, there’s a chance that lodged between a pair of heavyweight college football games Saturday afternoon – these races will go head to head against Oklahoma/Notre Dame and LSU/Georgia – that you wouldn’t have watched anyway. But a horse race takes about 2 minutes to complete. You couldn’t spare 2 minute to watch the best races of the year?

In the end, it doesn’t matter. The races won’t be televised. They’ll be on TVG, a channel that is devoted to hardcore gamblers and horse racing freaks like me. It’s in the 700s on the Comcast dial in DC and it’s in standard-definition.

In essence, the Fall Championship Meet at Belmont will showcase everything that is great and everything that is flawed with the sport.

On the great side, there is the behemoth known as Belmont and the historic nature of these races. While other sports struggle to compare eras, for horse racing and these races, it’s a direct line you can draw from today’s stars to yesterday’s legends. The purity of the Jockey Club Gold Cup has remained unchanged – it is usually the first time that the stars of the Triple Crown grow up and face their elders.

It is where 3-year-olds like Curlin, Easy Goer and Skip Away stamped their greatness. It is where older horses like Cigar, John Henry and Affirmed established another piece of their Hall of Fame careers.  It is a race that in 1978 saw two Triple Crown winners – Affirmed and Seattle Slew – partake in one of the most fascinating horse races of all-time. It has been aired on ABC, CBS and ESPN. With any luck, it’ll be on Fox Sports 1 next year thanks to a recently announced deal.

But before reading this blog post, did you know what was happening at Belmont? Did you know there are 6 races with championship implications and the best horses in the country running?

Horse racing, as I’ve mentioned before, is not dying but horse racing needs help. I love horse racing. If I hadn’t driven from DC to Connecticut the past two weekends for UConn debacles, I’d be joining my Dad at Belmont this weekend. It’s worth your time. It’s worth your enjoyment. It’s worth a few dollars to drop on the horses in the hope of striking it rich.

But I’m just a guy with a limited reach typing furiously trying to spread the word. I don’t have the pull. And it doesn’t seem like anyone in the horse racing industry does either right now. With the exception of the Triple Crown races – and maybe NBCSN’s coverage of Saratoga – the sport is barely a blip on the radar.

In 2012 at New York racetracks (Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga), a total of 1.7 million people bet $674.9 million. If you include betting on New York races from all-sources – internet, OTBs, other tracks – the number goes to a whopping $2.5 billion dollars.

Yes, that’s a “b” as in three commas.

Yet, arguably the sport’s most exciting day on Saturday will go untelevised, largely unwatched and decidedly unnoticed.

I’ll be watching.

I want to see who will win the battle between potential Horse of the Year Royal Delta and definite Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Princess of Slymar.

I want to know if the uber-talented and now healthy Graydar, the winner of the Grade I Donn Handicap, can return to form.

I want to see if Forty Tales – a horse I saw in person dust them off in spectacular fashion on the Belmont Stakes undercard – has the fortitude to knock of the older sprinters.

I want to find out if Laughing, a winner of three straight close decisions, is as good as her record indicates or if a horse like Kissable is more than just an awesome name.

I want to enjoy the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I want to see if Palace Malice – the horse who brought me so much joy and money at the Belmont Stakes – can shock the world again at Belmont.

I want to have company Saturday.

But no one else will be watching.

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