1/30/07 – Barbaro Euthanized; Racing On Life Support

In the past, I’ve written less than flattering things about people that I called “the Barbaro acolytes”. I continue to believe that their outpouring of emotion over an injured horse was way over the top. Nevertheless, the fact that Barbaro had to be euthanized despite the struggles of the veterinary team is a sad situation. Barbaro – through his injury and all of the struggles – had become a tragic figure that many people identified with. Barbaro’s passing is not a good thing for horseracing.

I’ve also written more than a few uncomplimentary things about the people who run horseracing – the most recent was a Topical Rant on 1/10/07. Well, those folks are at it again and I won’t use the passing of Barbaro to give them a pass on their latest silliness. Horseracing in Maryland is run by three entities that have a reputation for not agreeing with each other on much of anything – even whether or not the sun came up in the east this morning. The track operators, the horsemen and the legislators would probably cringe at the following notion:

    They are working in concert and their actions are completely in sync to drive the horseracing industry in Maryland directly to oblivion.

Recently, the track operators cancelled the Pimlico Special. It is the only race on the calendar other than the Preakness which can pretend to be an important race. Actually, millions of people know about this race even though they don’t know the name of the race – the Pimlico Special was the race where War Admiral and Seabiscuit ran their famous match race, which was chronicled in the recent book and movie on Seabiscuit. The horsemen are glad because they think that the $500K purse for that race will be spread among other races and be available to horses stabled in Maryland instead of going to some outside stable that ships in a top contender for that race. The track operators are glad to cancel the race the very day that the legislature took up the subject of “slot machines at the racetracks” – something that the legislature has opposed forever. The legislators are happy to be able to give speeches for and against slot machines, gambling, slot machines, apple pie and the American way and get coverage for all that hot air.

Meanwhile, quality racing in Maryland took another severe body blow. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it here:

    Low-grade horses running in cheap races at track facilities that are as inviting as a leper colony will not remain a sustainable industry.

Maryland racing is on that track; it has to find a way to get off that track; canceling races that might actually bring new fans to the track to see top horses in order to spread the money among races that no one wants to see in the first place is not the right business model.

I ran across some TV stats which show that golf on TV is dependent on Tiger Woods participation. When Woods was playing on a Sunday in 2006 – he did that eleven times last year – the average TV rating for those golf events was 3.5. When Woods was not playing on a Sunday in 2006, the average TV rating for those golf events was 1.6. There are two things to take from those numbers:

    When Tiger Woods is not playing, the audience is more than cut in half.

    When the XFL folded for poor ratings, it drew a 2.1 TV rating. Golf in 2006 was about 25% lower than the XFL in terms of a TV property.

I happened to graze through whatever golf event happened last weekend and saw Charles Howell III walking around and studying a putt. This guy makes a good living as a golfer so you’d think he could afford to buy himself a sandwich once in a while. He looks like a refugee from Darfur. Put him on a seesaw with Edgar Prado and Howell is the one up in the air…

Those golf ratings above don’t paint a hugely positive picture for the PGA. However, those numbers are stratospheric when you compare them to the TV ratings for the NHL All-Star game that was played on a Wednesday night. No, I have no idea why they did that; they just did. Maybe Versus needed to keep its weekend lineup of fishing shows and duck hunting excursions intact? Whatever. On Versus Network, the game drew a rating of 0.7. Maybe those weekend fishing shows have bigger audiences?

The US Figure Skating Championships happened recently too. I actually think that it was more interesting to follow this stuff 15 years ago when you never knew if Tonya Harding had hired some thugs to take out a competitor off the ice – – or maybe even on the ice. There used to be a moment of uncertainty whenever anyone other than Harding was skating; was there a sniper in the audience…?

Tennis is another sport that has had its moment in the spotlight and which is on the decline. Women’s tennis is far more interesting than men’s tennis and the surprising reemergence of Serena Williams in the Australian Open might give the women’s game a serious boost. Meanwhile, Anna Kournikova – remember her – is going to participate in a tennis exhibition in Chicago next month. The exhibition is called “Legends of Tennis”. John McEnroe will participate; so will Jim Courrier and others of that ilk. Now tell me, since Anna Kournikova never won anything other than minor exhibitions, how is she a “legend of tennis”?

Another top women’s tennis player, Justine Henin-Hardenne is going through a separation/divorce. I won’t make light of that because I’ve never known anyone to go through that process without a lot of emotional grief and hurt. But if you go to her official website, you’ll learn from her that she and her husband “have decided to separate; the reasons are personal.” Well, I have to say that I’ve also never known anyone to go through the separation/divorce process for reasons other than personal ones. Obviously, she has no obligation to post on a website all of the things going on in her personal life but that explanation adds zero value. Here’s hoping that the situation resolves itself so she can get back to playing tennis and not having to write about things she doesn’t want to write about.

Finally, here’s a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald regarding the NHL All-Star game:

“If an NHL All-Star game was held on TV and nobody saw it, would it still make a noise?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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