With the paucity of competitions ongoing now, most of the attention in the last several days has been on the NFL and its new CBA and impending free agency. That is perfectly natural; the NFL is a focal point for sports coverage under normal circumstances and that focus is only sharpened now. However, there are competitions out there that are generating news and today I plan to go to the fringes of the US sports world to talk about two of them.
The first item is a story of an opportunity blown. The sport of horseracing has been in decline in the US for at least the last 20 years and maybe for the last 40 years. In this time of scarce competition, horseracing could have made a minor comeback; consider:
- Unless the governor of a state with a racetrack issued the government equivalent of a “cease and desist letter”, horseracing is a perfect sport to allow for social distancing. There do not have to be spectators at the track nor need there be any workers there save for the grooms and jockeys – – and the grooms need to be there to care for the horses anyway.
- There are TV networks in place to put the races on the air and online wagering platforms already exist. They could put live racing on the air and not have to resort to showing “classic races from the past”. [Aside: If they showed the Belmont Stakes from 1973, we would know the Exacta; Secretariat won, and Twice A Prince finished second.]
Do not misunderstand; I am not suggesting that horseracing had a chance to re-emerge as a top-shelf sport in the US. I am saying that it might have goosed up interest sufficiently for it to approach the stature of the WNBA or Track and Field. But that is not going to happen – even if the racing mavens put on a promotional blitz and convince viewers to turn their TVs to the live events. The reason for that is the sporting equivalent of self-immolation.
There have been stories about racing very recently but they have been buried on the back pages of the sports section and they deal with drug cheating and Federal indictments. This does not involve some isolated trainer at a backwater track in Beaglebreath, AR, the indictments name 27 folks who are involved in the manufacture, advertisement, sales and promotion of PEDs for horses. You can find lots of the details here; let’s just say these folks did not spend a lot of time and energy on “clandestinity”.
Clearly there is history of “shenanigans” in the sport of horseracing and events such as the number of horses breaking down – needing euthanasia – or more stories of illegal drugs being used on the animals proves to me that the “overseers” are not up to the task of “oversight”. Moreover, I have become convinced that the problems here are intractable.
- The current system involves State level “oversight”. Notwithstanding the fancy titles given to the overseers such as “steward” or “commissioner”, many of these folks are put in those positions based on cronyism. If someone was a fraternity brother of the Lieutenant Governor’s brother and also donated to Hizzoner’s previous campaign, that could well be sufficient qualification to be on the State Racing Commission.
- This situation leads to multiple sets of rules and regulations across the State lines with each of the individual regulatory bodies looking like an old Benny Hill episode as they go about their “policing” and “enforcement” activities.
- Some have proposed Federal oversight over those State bodies; there is pending legislation called the Horseracing Integrity Act. [Aside: I just giggled a bit typing out the name of that legislation.] If anyone thinks that the US Anti-Doping Agency has resolved the problem of PEDs in human athletes, then you are invited to believe that this approach will work. Count me out…
Will Rogers is famous for his humorous yet meaningful observations. One of them seems to be appropriate for horseracing’s situation today; just change a word or two:
“A politician is just like a pickpocket; it’s almost impossible to get one to reform.”
Another Rogers’ observation seems to apply to the idea that any Federal legislation called the “Horseracing Integrity Act” will do much good:
“This country has come to fell the same when the Congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer.”
Oh, by the way, the Kentucky Derby has been postponed; it will not run on the first Saturday in May as usual. No word yet on the rest of the Triple Crown events but the Derby will tentatively run in mid-September.
Moving on… There was another ongoing competition that ended last night. It was not televised, and I doubt it ever will be televised meaning that a large segment of people who think of themselves as sports fans will pay it no mind. I am speaking of the 2020 iteration of The Iditarod. A musher from Norway won the race and his entire existence over the nine days of mushing exemplified “social distancing”. He was alone with his dogs. The maneuver that won the race for him was a 12-hour overnight run of 85 miles that he and his dogs made by themselves.
After the race, he handed out treats to his dogs in the form of raw bacon. No pharmaceutical concoctions; he gave them raw bacon.
Finally, in our times of the coronavirus, here is a Tweet from humorist, Brad Dickson, that may provide a health benefit:
“Here’s how health-conscious I am: you know how they say you’re supposed to be able to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while washing your hands? I use ‘Stairway To Heaven.’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………