by John Furgele
Horse racing is contested everyday across numerous tracks from around the world. For the most part, unless you’re a die hard, most of the races go unnoticed. There are many tracks, many different types of races at many types of distances. As a rule, I try to look for and follow stakes races primarily on the East Coast, but when I find them elsewhere, I watch them. If the purse is $100,000 or more, I’m interested; if under, not so much. It’s just impossible to watch them all.
Yesterday, (July 1) was Canada Day, and like many tracks, Woodbine Racetrack was open on the holiday. They had one stakes race, the $150,000 Grade III Dominion Day Stakes, at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. Naturally, I was interested, so I made sure to watch the race via the internet at 4:20 PM.
Glad I did. There were eight horses entered, one later scratched, leaving seven to run for the $90,000 first place prize. For most, a mundane event—until the race began. When the gates opened, it looked like an ordinary race on an ordinary day. The early fractions of 24.20, 48.30 and 1:13.3 did not raise any eyebrows. Then, it happened. Delegation took the lead and started surging. He ran as if he was shot out of a cannon. He got to the mile in 1:37.2, and then kept getting faster and faster. His lead was widening and then the final time flashed: 2:01.51, a track record.
The time is a good time for that distance, and it did break the track record of 2:01.81, which had been set by Strait of Dover in the 2012 Queen’s Plate, which happens to be the premier race in Canada and oh by the way carries a purse of $1,000,000.
The point is this: on any given day, you never know what you will see on a racetrack. It’s silly to compare times, but Delegation’s time yesterday bettered Orb’s time of 2:02.89 from this year’s Kentucky Derby. Does that mean Delegation is a better horse than Orb? Absolutely not, but it does illustrate what’s great about horse racing. And wouldn’t it be nice if those who cover and market the sport would sell this point to the general public, a public that has many options for spending its entertainment dollars.
Horse racing is a beautiful sport. Most who go to the track or even watch the Kentucky Derby know that there is a splash of regality to it. You go to the track and see the beautiful, powerful animals and you wonder how they can run on those skinny legs. I’m sure there are some that watch the Derby and vow to follow horse racing more closely, only to go 364 days before watching another race.
To me, it’s important to sell the finer points of the sport. To me, times are important, fractions are important, history is important. When you’re trying to recruit people to your sport, explanations are essential. Telling somebody that Secretariat ran the Belmont in 2:24 is important; telling them that the second fastest time is 2:26 is more so, because it allows the newbie to make that all important connection. Teaching them the rule of 12 or 24 for fractions is important. That way, when they see horses hit the quarter in 50.2, they will make the connection that the race is a bit on the slow side. Armed with the knowledge, you might have cringed when you saw fractions of 22.65, 46.66 and 1:09.4 at the Derby because you would have known they were blazing. That’s what got me in to the sport, but maybe I’m being too technical here.
Time is important. Americans relate to time. The first sub four minute mile, breaking the sound barrier, breaking 10 seconds for the 100 meter dash, it resonates with Americans. When you watch Olympic swimming, the broadcasters are constantly referencing that so and so is on, ahead or behind world record pace. Americans root for the athlete and they also route for the time and the numbers. They say that time is of the essence, and it certainly is. It’s tangible and it means something to everybody.
Many Americans disliked (I know, I used to teach it) history and social studies when they were in school. Now, they’ve come to realize that history surrounds them on a daily basis, from visited internet sites to the oil change they just got for the SUV. History is about dates, times and places, just like our lives are.
Horse racing needs to convey this to its audience and potential audience. Give them the history, teach them about times and maybe, they can hook more people in.