This new category is truly an open forum: I’d like everyone who has an opinion–and everyone has one–to write in your comments. Let’s start a conversation here. Racing is in dire straits in America, and we all gripe about it on an almost-daily basis. At least once in the last year, every person in racing–professional and fan, alike–has punched the air with their index finger and proclaimed, “They don’t know how to market this sport! Do you know what they oughta do?”
Lots of opinions, not much action.
So we’d like to hear your opinions–who knows? Maybe someone in a place of authority, those whose job it is to market the sport and grow the fanbase–will actually listen to us. Your comment here on Mairzy Doats could be the word that turns it all around, and gives insight that hasn’t heretofore been given a place for you to contribute.
Read my suggestion in this first blogpiece, then comment on the ‘site. Let’s talk to each other, because we love this sport. We love the horses. We love the culture of racing. Without us–the fans and pros in the sport–there’d be no racing. Our opinions matter–and that means that your opinion is valid.
Sans further ado, we move on to The Match-Up of the Decade…
It is my not-so-humble opinion that one sure-fire way to inspire excitement in the sport of Thoroughbred racing is to bring the best horses to the people, and stir up the adrenalin that drives us to group frenzy.
We currently have in our sport two owners who are great men, men who care deeply about their horses. They bring their horses to the People, and are rewarded for their fidelity with undying gratitude and fanatical devotion for their equine athletes.
These gentlemen also care about this sport, and together have more insight than 1,000% of all the marketing wonks who try to sell lame ideas to racetrack administrators. These two men are–and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you–Jess Jackson and Jerry Moss.
Jess Jackson, Man of Great Love and Insight
Jess Jackson owns and campaigned the magnificent Curlin all the way to not only superstardom–but to immortality. Curlin bested the mighty Cigar’s Top Earner status last year. But it wasn’t about the numbers–it was about taking the great horse as far as his destiny desired. How do I know this? I talked to the man in person, and my vibe said that he spoke Truth.
It happens that I met Jess Jackson last April, at the Keeneland Sales. I was late arriving at the Keeneland tavern to meet friends. Trucking along outside the sales pavilion in the corridor, I saw Mr. Jackson headed toward me.
I turned on my heel, grabbed a business card and stuck out my hand. (I still want to write the screenplay about Curlin’s career.)
Even though Mr. Jackson was on his way into the pavilion to bid on the seventh horse in the auction, he stopped and talked to me. I began by chirping, “I LOVE CURLIN!!!”
He smiled, shook my hand, then took his hand and put it over his heart.
“I love him, too. I mean, I really love him…”
He then went on to say that, obviously, it’s not about the money. (Jackson has plenty of that.) Keeping his hand on his heart for a few minutes, he went on to say that they intended to race Curlin until he, the horse, didn’t want to run anymore. That he (Curlin) loved racing–and winning!–so his retirement date was up to the horse.
Imagine that, a Thoroughbred owner who actually realizes that his horse is a sentient being, with emotions and intellectual capacity. Remarkable.
So I’ve met the man, and can testify from the feeling in my gut that everything he does in his horseracing life is for the best of the horse. I never dismiss my vibe, and my vibe fell into spiritual love with Jess Jackson in those few minutes at the back of the Keeneland auction pavilion.
Rachel Alexandra: Powerful. Graceful. Champion.
When Mr. Jackson bought Rachel Alexandra, the monster filly who blew the doors off all competitors in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks (winning by a resounding 20 ¼ lengths)–I’m sure that his juices were stirred as he realized that here was another horse into whom he could pour his emotions and resources. Another great creature who is otherworldly, not of this planet.
And so began the love between this man and his second Truly Great Horse. The fact that she went on to ace the Preakness and break track records in the Mother Goose was testimony to Mr. Jackson’s eye for brilliance and his commitment to take a horse all the way to her destiny. (Rachel had established herself, brilliantly, in the Kentucky Oaks, which she won by 20 1/4 lengths. Mr. Jackson bought her shortly thereafter.)
The new racing team has proven that the right owner with the right horse = your name written in the stars.
One of the reasons why I love and admire Jess Jackson is that, when he entered Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, he did not do so in order to create a battle of the sexes. He saw it simply that he chose to put his Big Horse into a race that he knew she could win. Period. He didn’t hype it: no “girls against the boys” stuff. Simply put, he’s a horseman who likes to see a good horse race. His filly is one of the best horses in the country–so why shouldn’t she race in the second leg of the Triple Crown?
He stated, also, that bringing the best horses together to race against each other is a gift to the sport and to the fans. Curlin spent two summers at the Oklahoma in Saratoga, and Saratoga went wild. The fact that the World’s Greatest Horse was camping out in Saratoga’s backyard brought every turf writer, media outlet, fan and photographer to The Spa City, in the hopes of catching just a glimpse of The Great One.
Curlin in residence was a gift to the city, the Race Course and to the fans. Ibid, Rachel Alexandra’s summer camp experience in Saratoga. The excitement bubbles: every time she steps out of her stall, someone writes about it. Her bullet workouts are documented and touted.
Excitement like this truly is a gift to the sport. Horses like Curlin and Rachel Alexandra are rock stars. Access to rock stars turn fans into rabid fanatics. This is good for the sport of Thoroughbred racing, because–as we all know–too often, great horses are snatched off the track at precisely age 3, after they’ve established themselves as money-eareners–and sent to the farm to reproduce.
Fans no longer have access to their favorite horses–these wonderful fans who buy t-shirts, baseball caps and posters of their favorite horse. These fans who love a horse so much that they cry when they see her/him run, even on TV. It’s a love affair that’s suddenly terminated, without the consent of either devotee or object of affection. It actually hurts: the fans suffer…but more than that, the sport suffers.
So here we have one camp, headed by a visionary horseman who owns both the World’s Greatest Thoroughbred–and now, a filly who’s on her way to immortality. And he’s up for a race between his magnificent girl and the other greatest horse currently racing, Zenyatta.
Jerry Moss, Come on Down!
Jerry Moss is a brilliant businessman: as the “M” of A&M Records (with his friend, Herb Alpert), he built a recording industry empire with some of the world’s most gifted musicians.
Among those musicians whose careers Jerry Moss sculpted was the superband, The Police. Mr. Moss won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, named for one of Sting’s sons.
Now his Zenyatta, named for The Police’s third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, is tearing up the west coast. She’s undefeated as of this writing. And she shows no sign of slowing down, certainly not of tiring of the competition or the accolades.
She’s undefeated, and she’s five. She’s two years past the age when another owner might have ripped her off the track, and sent her to the breeding shed.
But Mr. Moss is another insightful owner, who cares more for the horse, herself, and for the sport. He wants to give the people what they want–and we want to see Zenyatta run.
But we don’t want to have to wait until the Breeders’ Cup in November. And we surely don’t want to see her go up against Rachel Alexandra on Santa Anita’s polytrack (IF, indeed, Jess Jackson would concede and send Rachel to California).
For one reason, we saw last November that Santa Anita is a lousy place to hold a Breeders’ Cup. (Did you notice how many European horses won BC races? And that those horses workout on polytrack?) It’s not a level playing field–all Thoroughbreds are used to working out on dirt and racing–at least occasionally–on dirt. Not all horses are used to the spongy surgace of polytrack. The Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita is another poorly-conceived, ill-advised concept. A second-in-a-row BC at Santa Anita is nothing more than a slap in the face to NYRA and the magnificent Belmont.
So why should Jess Jackson send his Rachel Alexandra to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup? He shouldn’t.
And why should Jerry Moss send his marvelous mare, Zenyatta, east, to Saratoga to go up against Rachel?
For the Good of the Sport.
It’s easy: he should send her to Saratoga to prove her mettle. To go up against a dirt horse on a dirt surface, at the world’s most prestigious Thoroughbred race meet–and give a gift to Thoroughbred racing that hasn’t been seen for quite some time.
The two greatest Thoroughbreds, racing against each other, at the world’s best racing venue. This should be a given. The gift this match-up would give racing is almost unimaginable: the Saratoga Race Course would host at least 100,000 people for that one race. Fans would fly in from all over the country–perhaps all over the world. Hotels in Albany, 30 miles away, would benefit from the overflow. Handle (the money bet on a race) would be astronomical. Television crews and journalists from Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Europe and the Middle East would be present to document this historic race. Rock stars and celebrities would be on-hand, perchance to catch some of the paparazzi (who really care more about getting shots of the two horses).
Everyone–everyone, including the owners of the horses–would win.
The sport of Thoroughbred racing would get a shot in the arm that’s sorely needed. No amount of conniving on the part of marketing “professionals” for an entire year could give the sport the juice that this one glorious day of racing could produce.
I would never–ever–suggest that anyone do anything that might hurt or otherwise compromise a horse’s health, either mental or physical. So I could not, in all good conscience, ask Jerry Moss to bring Zenyatta to Saratoga and wreck her or injure her via the transportation.
But if she’s in good shape–and we have no reason to believe that she’s not–there’s no reason of which I am aware why Zenyatta cannot be flown safely into Albany Airport. (Or Saratoga, for that matter.) And, with a few weeks’ rest and gentle, then building, workouts–Zenyatta will be perky and ready to take on her nemesis.
It would be a harkening back to the days when bold, confident men knew that their horse was the best–and they threw him into the race.
Back to the days when horses weren’t treated like hothouse flowers, and they ran like the wind and were rewarded for it by the immortality that only a Thoroughbred Champion can know. No famous human has ever garnered the unabashed love and utter devotion as horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Citation. No human can know that love, for very few humans put their entire hearts on the line in that quest for the Pantheon.
So I propose that Jerry Moss reconsider his announcement, that Zenyatta will not travel East. That yes, of course, he should always consider first what’s best for his horse. The horse’s best interest is always first, or should be.
But assuming that she’s good to ship–I ask Mr. Moss to please reconsider, and bring Zenyatta to Saratoga to race against Rachel Alexandra. Give the people what they want–and they–we–will reward you with undying gratitude.
We want to see these two powerful athletes bolt from the gate and put on their race faces. We need to feel the competitive spirit between the two of them, as each knows that she’s racing against the only horse who can best her. And we want to reward the winner with the applause and wild accolades that she deserves.
Racing will grow by leaps and bounds if this one race can happen. Racing doesn’t need drinking contests or Tuesday BINGO Nights. We need to see our strongest, fastest athletes racing against each other, two goddesses robed in the attire of eternal strength.
Mr. Moss, we need to see your remarkable Zenyatta take on Rachel Alexandra. And we–the fans, the professionals, the entire sporting world–will thank you forever, in ways you cannot-yet envision.
[Photos of starting gate and Rachel Alexandra compliments of NYRA (New York Racing Association) and Adam Coglianese. Many thanks!]