Archive for Belmont Park

Breeders Cup Going To Santa Anita Makes Strong Statement Against Belmont Park

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Crist of Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Breeders’ Cup decision a slap in face to Belmont

Next Wednesday, at a luncheon being hosted by the mayor of Los Angeles and Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita is expected to be named the host site for the 2012 Cup races. Politicians and Cup officials will surely hail the announcement that Santa Anita will be the host for the third time in five years as wonderful news.

To my mind, it will be a sad day for American racing and for a Breeders’ Cup organization that has lost its way and abandoned the ideals it established nearly 30 years ago.

I would feel the same way if Belmont Park were being given the Cup for the third time in five years while California had not had one since 2005. Santa Anita is a beautiful facility and a terrific host for the Breeders Cup – once every three or four years. So are Belmont Park and Churchill Downs. (There’s a separate discussion about whether the rotation should include a fourth slot for a wild-card track.)

One of the founding principles of the Cup was that the races would move around the country while emphasizing the primary racing centers of California, Kentucky, and New York. It was a bedrock principle, the only way to ensure national unity and support for a year-end championship day that by definition was diminishing traditional events in each region, and obviously the fairest thing for the sport’s far-flung horsemen and fans.

At one time, before fairness and inclusiveness at the Breeders’ Cup went the way of the dodo and the Distaff, there wouldn’t even have been a discussion about the site of the 2012 Cup. After being run at Santa Anita in both 2008 and 2009, then at Churchill Downs in 2010 and again this year, the only question should have been whether Belmont would host it in 2012 alone or in both 2012 and 2013. Instead, Cup officials not only spurned New York for the fourth year in a row, but also did so in disrespectful and humiliating fashion.

Tom Ludt, the new Breeders’ Cup chairman, made the unnecessary announcement in June that there were now three “finalists” for 2012 hosting – Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita. Obviously, New York was being passed over again. Cup board members had been very impressed with the presentation made on Santa Anita’s behalf by Greg Avioli, now a top official at the track’s parent company but the chief executive of Breeders’ Cup until this spring.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Cup officials can possibly justify three Cups at Santa Anita in five years while New York has not had one since 2005. I offered Ludt and Craig Fravel, the new Cup chief executive, an opportunity to do so but both declined comment pending next week’s announcement.

The Cup board’s previous arguments on behalf of Santa Anita as perhaps a permanent Cup host were flimsy or probably wrong. They proposed that Santa Anita should be considered for that because other major sports events have permanent homes (they don’t); because Los Angeles is a media and entertainment center with fine hotels and restaurants (unlike New York?); and because the 2008-09 runnings were so successful (in fact, they were the two lowest-handling Breeders’ Cup Saturdays in recent years, outdone by Belmont in 2005, Churchill in 2006 and 2010, and even Monmouth in torrential rains in 2007).

More recently, some Cup board members have been spreading the word that New York didn’t actually want the Breeders’ Cup, a complete fiction. The fact is that Belmont was ready, eager and able to host the Cup in 2009, or 2010, or 2011, or 2012. Each time it was misled about its prospects and had the goalposts moved – one time its franchise renewal hadn’t technically been ratified, another year officials had inadvertently promised the site to both Belmont and Churchill, another year it had to take advantage of a Kentucky tax break no one had suggested New York needed to pursue. Yet this time it’s okay to give it to Santa Anita even though the track has not even been awarded racing dates for 2012 and does not currently have a tested racing surface for the event.

The mean-spirited capper to all this is that when NYRA officials learned second-hand that they were not being given the Cup yet again for 2012, they asked if it could at least be announced next week that Belmont would finally getting the races again in 2013. The request was denied, and they were told there needs to be “further discussions” about that.

In a parallel universe of fairness and statesmanship, Santa Anita might not even have applied for the 2012 Cup and instead said it was obviously New York’s turn but that they’d sure like to be considered for 2013. When the Breeders’ Cup was being run by people who supported racing without regional preferences, by leaders such as Ted Bassett and John Nerud and D.G. Van Clief, Breeders’ Cups were awarded in an equitable fashion with the goal of helping the entire industry.

Those days are clearly gone, along with a fair and balanced Breeders’ Cup.


Flay, Repole and Plank Show It’s Hip To Own A Horse

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Case Clay of The New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A Toast to Horse Racing, With a Classic Twist

Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant had more than one thing in common. They were not only entertainers, but they were horse racing enthusiasts, fans and owners. As a 37 year old who has grown up in the horse industry, I often hear folks talk about the “good old days” and how these three men created a great allure to horse racing, making it hip to own a horse.

When I hear this sort of chatter the next time, I will let the folks know there is a chance for “good new days” ahead.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, hours before the third leg of the Triple Crown, the modern-day, business version of the Crosby/Astaire/Grant trio got together for the first time in the same room and shared a drink. I got the feeling it won’t be the last. Three young horse owners, the celebrity chef Bobby Flay (age 46), the Under Armour founder and chief executive Kevin Plank (age 38) and the co-founder of Vitaminwater Mike Repole (age 42), are the new faces of horse racing, and it’s quite refreshing.

Each of the entrepreneurs is fun and engaging, each has earned a coveted Breeders’ Cup victory, each has built internationally recognized brands, but most importantly, they share a genuine passion for horse racing as a sport and will do whatever it takes to let people know that if you don’t own a racehorse, you’re missing an unbelievable opportunity.

“We love to promote,” Plank said, “and the three of us are getting together and saying ‘We want other people to take interest in this game that was once the most popular sport in America and say, ‘Why not again?’”

Individually, their intensity and enthusiasm is infectious, but together, when discussing horse racing, their enthusiasm rises to another level, and their love of horse racing is off the charts.

“It’s an unbelievable game,” Plank said. “There’s nothing like watching the horses coming down the stretch and crossing the finish line. And no matter what the odds, short or long, the winning is contagious and the beauty of the horse is something you can’t express. It is the prettiest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.”

The nice thing about Repole, Flay and Plank is they don’t take themselves too seriously either. As the discussion continues, I’m imagining Crosby, Astaire and Grant doing the same thing years ago, as these three gentlemen playfully weave verbal pokes back and forth to one another in jest as if they have known each other forever. They quickly maneuver between seriously passionate and hilarious zingers, which become fun to watch.

Repole and Plank, who had Stay Thirsty and Monzon, respectively, in the Belmont Stakes, asked Flay which horse would win the Belmont, each giving him a look that their horse better be mentioned. Without missing a beat, Flay smiled and said, “Santiva, definitely,” which immediately earned the payoff laugh from the other two guys.

Flay then switches back to serious and answers my question about what it was like to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with his filly, More Than Real.

“I’ve probably watched the race replay 300 times,” Flay said. “Actually I watched the replay this morning. I had about 12 people over to my house for brunch and we showed it to the guests. Somebody at the table said, ‘You can’t bottle that feeling.’ He’s right, you can’t bottle it. For me, it didn’t feel real, so I always have to watch the replay to make sure it actually happened.”

Repole comes back right on cue, “You had 12 people over for brunch, and we weren’t invited? Kevin, do you believe that?”

Plank responds, “Bobby, are you a cook or something?”

Repole pulls it right back to the passion and what he loves about horse racing. “This is what racing is about,” Repole says as he points to his 80 friends and family gathered at tables behind him. This is a celebration today,” he continues. “Whether my horse comes in 1st or 12th, it doesn’t matter. This is what racing can be about. You can come here and have a great time, spend $200, get something to eat, and possibly walk out of here with a thousand dollars. You go to a great restaurant with $200, and you’re not coming out with possibly more money in your pocket, especially if it’s one of Bobby’s restaurants!”

Flay laughs.

While they are riffing, I can see their minds moving, using what made their businesses successful to promote horse racing.

“For young guys in horse racing, the luck we have is more like a naiveté, which I promote more than anything,” Plank says. “Don’t tell me what can’t happen or what has to happen. Hopefully we can pick up a lot of trophies and have other people say, ‘I’d like to do that, too.’”

Plank, Flay and Repole were all underdogs at one point in their self-made lives. When you talk to them, you get the sense that they embrace the challenge of promoting a sport, which, like any sport (disputes and lockout discussions in the N.F.L. and N.B.A.) has its challenges; and will not let horse racing go away on their watch.

“It’s too important to let it go away,” Flay says. “We’re doing our best in this game, and we want this game to be the best it can be.”

These guys are winners and their attitudes are contagious, which is a good combination for horse racing.

“We wouldn’t have gotten into it if we thought it was going to lose,” Plank adds.

Repole, Plank and Flay don’t know what the future holds, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from dreaming. On Saturday, Flay’s filly ran a solid third in the Grade I Acorn, and he’s off to Royal Ascot to watch his Breeders’ Cup winning filly run. Repole’s horses ran third in the Grade II True North Handicap and second in the Belmont Stakes. And although Plank’s underdog didn’t take the Belmont this year, don’t bet against his long shots (his Breeders’ Cup winner was 46-1).

In the Crosby, Astaire, Grant days, it was hip to own a horse. Thanks to Bobby Flay, Mike Repole and Kevin Plank, it’s getting hip again.