SBD/June 6, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

California Dreamin': Triple Crown Could Provide Needed Boost To Horse Racing

California Chrome would be the first Triple Crown winner since '78
A victory by California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes Saturday would deliver horse racing its first Triple Crown winner in 36 years and give the sport a "much-needed boost, according to CBS' Maurice DeBois. The net's Michelle Miller noted the sport is "hurting," as betting at tracks since '04 "has dropped $4.2 billion, and in New York state alone, attendance is down 20%." Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in '78, the "image of horse racing has been tainted," as scandals over "steroids and raceday medication and competition from casino gambling have left the sport reeling." California Chrome co-trainer Alan Sherman was asked if the horse will "put fans back in the stands." He responded, "I think he already has" ("Evening News," CBS, 6/4). However, NPR's Frank Deford wrote he wants to believe a Belmont win for California Chrome "would mean anything substantial for a sport that is struggling against time and culture," but that likely "is fantasy." Deford: "Even if California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, he will not, as we say about politicians, have long coattails. How many more times will he appear on a racetrack? Maybe he won't even go into a starting gate after this year, but head directly to the breeding shed. Will people go out to Suffolk Downs or Del Mar or Delaware Park to watch these magnificent animals and bet on those horses, just because they remember how this one extraordinary creature won three races over five weeks in the springtime of one year?" (NPR.com, 6/4).

ANY BOOST LIKELY TO BE SHORT LIVED: In Providence, Jim Donaldson writes under the header, "Triple Crown Would Be Great For Chrome, But Not Enough For Sport." If California Chrome is "successful, it is hoped he’ll rejuvenate interest in thoroughbred racing." He has a "decent chance at winning," but as for "rejuvenating, not so much." The "sad fact is that while a Triple Crown winner almost certainly would provide a short-term bump in interest in what is an underappreciated sport, it’s unlikely to have a long-term effect." While fans "turn out in large numbers for 'boutique' meets such as Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland, as well as on big race days at major tracks around the country, the interest in racing is nowhere near what it was" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 6/6). In L.A., Kevin Modesti writes under the header, "California Chrome Could Bolster Horse-Racing Industry ... For Now." For many people who "count on the nation’s racing industry for their livelihoods or entertainment, it’s axiomatic that a Triple Crown could start a turnaround." But Modesti asks, "How useful would such happy publicity be to executives at U.S. racetracks -- like Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, where average daily betting had a 40 percent free-fall between 2002 and 2011 before ticking up the past two years? Would it reawaken Americans to a game that has struggled to fight off ever-increasing competition from other sports and simpler and cheaper forms of gambling?" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 6/6).

WOULD A WIN ACTUALLY BE BAD FOR SPORT? BLEACHER REPORT's Dan Levy wondered if California Chrome is here "to save horse racing or destroy it." Levy: "In other words, has horse racing been as popular as it is over the last 35 years only because most of us come back year after year just waiting for another Triple Crown winner?" Fans "still care about big events in horse racing," like the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup. However, is the interest "predicated on the belief that this could finally be the year a horse wins the Triple Crown?" Ratings for the Belmont "drop in years without a Triple Crown contender, but once we get one, will we really care as much to see it again?" (BLEACHER REPORT, 6/4).

WHAT'S AT STAKE: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reported the Belmont will be a "test of preparedness" for NYRA, which was "seized by the state two years ago after the deaths of horses at its tracks and assorted management missteps." In four of the last five Belmont Stakes, when "no horse was seeking the Triple Crown, attendance averaged 50,361." But "more than 100,000 fans" are expected for Saturday's race. NYRA President Christopher Kay "vows that the track will be ready for this onslaught, although no one will really know for sure until early Saturday evening." Sandomir noted NYRA will "add as many as 1,000 security, concessions and parimutuel workers to cope with additional spectator and bettor demands." All grandstand reserved seats, which "cost $20 to $150 each, have been sold out," as have "premium offerings like the $450 tickets for the Turf and Field Club and $375 tickets for the North Shore Terrace." But some of the 1,800 temporary bleacher seats that are "still to be built near the track’s far turn are available at $250 each, as are some of the 240 table seats under a specially rigged trackside tent near the clubhouse turn at $1,000 apiece." Meanwhile, the park itself is "dressing up, with a temporary area on the first floor being converted into the $300-a-head Champagne Room" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).
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