Thursday, March 13, 2014

The "Dirty" Attitude of American Racing

This is not Europe or Australia, where the Frankels and Black Caviars are revered; where greatness comes in all forms. This is America, where the classics, the classic distances, and the dirt reign supreme; where grass milers and sprinters will always be segregated and discriminated against in the history books -- Steve Haskin in "Another Opportunity for Wise Dan"

If there is one thing I've come to realize since I've followed American racing more closely, it's that this quote couldn't be more true. Whether it be the announcement that Del Mar would be swapping it's synthetic track for traditional dirt, a general lack of interest in international races, or Wise Dan's lack of respect in the American racing community, it's clear that if you're not a ten furlong dirt runner, you simply don't belong.

I understand the thought behind it all. We are a racing nation, which was built on good old fashioned dirt, it fits with our traditional blue collar values and ten furlongs, well, our most prestigious races: The Kentucky Derby, The Santa Anita "Big 'Cap" Handicap, Travers Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup Classic are all run at that distance. It's only natural that one would give attention to horses who run in those races, but why does it have to be at the expense of everyone else?

Take Wise Dan, for example. There was no question he has been the most consistent runner in America for the past three years, and yet he is still unable to gain the respect from the racing community that he deserves for no other reason than him being a turf miler. "He isn't challenging himself," say some. "Who is he really beating anyway," say others. "Who cares if he wins when it's on the grass?" Wise Dan is one of the few horses who has won graded stakes on turf, All Weather, and dirt. He's as versatile as any horse we've seen in recent years and has had more success than any recent runner on every surface imaginable, and yet, he's apparently not good enough. Animal Kingdom didn't get the same criticism, although being a Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner surely aids his case, and yet in their one meeting, Wise Dan emphatically defeated the Derby champion on one of the biggest stages in American racing, but that's not enough to gain the respect of his own country.

If turf is such an inferior surface, why not suggest all of the best dirt runners take a crack on the green stuff. There's no arguing that Tiznow and Funny Cide are two of the best horses in recent times, but of course, nobody suggested they have a go on the turf, that would be ludicrous. And yet, Wise Dan, who has by far been the most versatile of that trio, whilst still being just as, if not more, dominant than his peers as those two greats, is repeatedly bashed.

Yes, the traditional American horse is a dirt router, but why do outdated traditions dictate our contemporary thoughts?

Perhaps the 'Sport of Kings' needs to get in touch with reality, for it's own sake and for the sake of gaining back the respect of the international community. This unnecessary need to cling onto "what is American," whilst bashing every race and every horse who doesn't fit the bill is only hurting the sport, and yet so many of us are willing and ready to take a "my way or the highway" approach when it comes to this issue, and instead of working with the other nations to create truly international racing meetings that will garner the attention of the "big dogs," we're the stubborn thorn who's not only unwilling to cooperate, but innately judgmental of those who aren't on our side.

I may not have been alive when Secretariat ran his historic Belmont Stakes or when Damascus and Dr. Fager went toe-to-toe, but I have the utmost respect for American racing history and for the people and horses who made the sport what it is today.

That being said, I firmly believe we're in the wrong, and that greatness does in fact come in all forms.

Nobody told Michael Jordan he needed to become a center to be the best basketball player of all-time, Wayne Gretzky never had to take a crack at goaltending to cement his status as a hockey legend, heck, Steve Prefontaine didn't line up in the 100-metre dash and yet we still acknowledge his legendary track prowess.

So why can't the same apply to racing? Why can't we simply celebrate horses like Wise Dan, Groupie Doll, or Speightstown as some of the best of their generation instead of giving ridiculous reasons as to why they aren't among the best ever (as if any of us truly has the authority to dignify one as the best of all-time)?

Why can't we be accepting of international horses and take interest in the Treves, Gentildonnas, and Lord Kanaloas of the world instead of acting as if their races aren't important because they aren't run on our surface of choice?

Let's face the facts. Our races are no better than anyone else's because they're run on dirt and the more we tear down our own horses, the more we deprive ourselves of great stories that could possibly catch the nation's attention. Heck, who's going to support the Wise Dans, Mizdirections, and Midnight Lutes of American racing  if we, as the American racing community, don't wholeheartedly support them ourselves?

It's sad to say, but we're killing our own sport, alienating ourselves from the international racing community, and talking trash on our own horses and until we adjust our attitude, it's all downhill from here.









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