12/12/2014 4:27PM

Hovdey: And now for a completely different symposium


Fantasy leagues, social media, foal crops, and the never-ending quest to squeeze every betting dollar out of a willing yet limited customer base – these were the front-burner issues discussed at the Racing and Gaming Symposium conducted this week by the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program.

The lineup reflected not only the industry’s growing interest in all things technological, but also an understandable weariness with the questions addressed at symposiums of the past that, in the end, had no answers.

Racing’s integrity, drug testing and enforcement, horse slaughter, racehorse retirement – these were the vegetables dished out as good for the game but usually left behind on the plate. You can’t blame the symposium organizers for wanting to throw some chocolate pudding into the mix. Fantasy leagues? There’s the answer.

Going forward, however, tough issues will need to be addressed, and the Racing and Gaming Symposium is as good a place as any to put them on the table. Since no one asked, here are a few ideas for future confabs.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “Long Rein: Tales from the World of Horse Racing,” a collection of columns and features by Jay Hovdey

Repave Turf Paradise and Put Up…What? – The spectre of an improved real-estate market has many racing regions getting edgy that more and more tracks will be sold off to developers, that Hollywood Park was only the first of many shoes to drop, and that it’s only a matter of time before Aqueduct becomes the Steve Zissou Aquatic Park East. Pushbacks to be discussed include a strategic devaluation of track properties to discourage non-racing investors with tacky wallpaper, habachi cooking, and auto maintenance on racetrack lawns, as well as the encouragement of legal pot shops in adjacent neighborhoods.

What Happens When the Rich Guy Dies? – A cold-eyed look at the concept of succession in racetrack ownership. Will their heirs, if there are heirs, carry on to ensure continuity? Is there an appetite (or legal basis) for the forced adoption of young, enthusiastic racing promoters? Is the inspiring “El Cid” option viable even after the owner’s passing, or perhaps an application of Disney animatronics, to at least reassure racing’s stakeholders while an alternative form of stability is secured.

All Creatures Great and Not So Great – On the public-relations front, it has become widely known that Churchill Downs Inc. does not allow dogs at its racetracks. Cats, okay. Dogs, no. Is it an insurance issue? Fundamental species prejudice? How about ferrets? This is a demoralizing issue that could spread to other track ownerships and erode the idea that racing is an animal-friendly industry. Panelists could include representatives from the ASPCA, the U.S. Postal Service, and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Catch as Catchphrase Can – It has been a decade since the cry of “Go Baby Go” echoed across the land, inspiring sports fans to try the track and see what all the fuss was about. Pitch-celebs Rip Torn (“Canadian Bacon”) and Lori Petty (“Tank Girl”) have moved on to bigger and better things, but that does not mean that racing can’t tap into the current herd of TMZ-worthies to cultivate interest, as long as there is a compelling, quick-twitch message to deliver. Possibles include “We’re Not the NFL,” “Horse Racing – the Real White Meat,” and an updated twist on the Paul Simon classic that would have folks tapping their feet to “50 Ways to Bet Your Money.”

More miles for Cirrus des Aigles

Once again, a major international racing festival will take place without participation from the United States. This one is in Hong Kong on Sunday, which is, like, yesterday our time, but who really cares if there is nothing from America worth following?

The one horse worth following, though, by any standards is the unpronounceable Cirrus des Aigles, who will be running in the mega-bucks Hong Kong race at 1 1/4 miles. This 8-year-old soldier of fortune is trained in France by Corine Barande-Barbe, who saw to his gelding many years ago and has been rewarded with a career of 60 starts, 21 wins, and 26 placings, many at the highest levels of competition in England, France, and Dubai.

Because he is a gelding, Cirrus des Aigles has never been able to run in the Arc de Triomphe (didn’t know it was a restricted race, did you?). But his reputation hardly has suffered. His best race may have been his tenacious second to Frankel in the Champion Stakes at Ascot two years ago, when Cirrus des Aigles thoroughly tested the unbeaten wonder horse at 1 1/4 miles over soft ground.

Great geldings are having a renaissance in racing, and that is a good thing. Game On Dude left an indelible mark before his retirement this year, while Wise Dan may still have a few bullets in his world-class holster. And now Shared Belief is in the mix, threatening to have a huge 2015.

If there is any justice, Cirrus des Aigles will finally score in this, his fifth try at a Hong Kong prize. If not, bring him to the States. He’s the kind of horse who draws a crowd.

Thomas Mcdonough More than 1 year ago
Good piece, Jay. Cirrus has always been one of my favorites--tough, resilient and will take his race to any track in the world.
Rey More than 1 year ago
Jay good article. The fact that some readers are making light of it is one indication of why horse racing is on life support. Fantasy Leagues are a 70 billion dollar business in this country. Technology is also very important. The younger generation will embrace racing if it is done in a manner that appeals to them. The racing industry also needs to look at the huge crowd that attended the Belmont Stakes. These fans were mostly younger generation digital natives who were enjoying the Triple Crown experience and California Chrome. Look at the crowd at Del Mar when California Chrome ran a couple weeks ago. These racing fans were similar in age and just as enthusiastic. They were taking their selfies and enjoying the social moment. Del Mar drew 20,000 fans on a late November Sunday and Joe Harper went on record saying that the success of the meet caught him by surprise! The old guard needs to wake up and smell the coffee or step aside and let more progressive thinkers lead the industry into the 21st century.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When Game On Dude was gelded, they should have changed his name to Game Off Dude.
mike More than 1 year ago
Oh come on all-- if you can't see this is tongue and cheek... Smile
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Also, Cirrus Des Aigles is a horse who thrives on soft going, so I am not sure if they will ship to run on an US putting green.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Your lack of international racing knowledge is why you should stick to writing about US racing. Cirrus Des Aigles is not the only loved gelding running in Hong Kong. You have the 2014 Cartier Sprinter of the year Sole Power(7 year old gelding), Red Cadeaux (Melb Cup runner up), Gordon Lord Byron (6 year old Gelding, GR1 sprinter), and how about the super talented Able Friend (5 year old gelding)who will crush in the HK Mile. Also, I am not sure how you didn't know about the Arc rule on Geldings?, The race is only the biggest in the world, and 99% of knowledgeable turf writers know all there is to know about the biggest races, regardless of location..
Steven More than 1 year ago
so how much have you wagered on these international superstars? who cares..... it's a funny fluff piece and the real wagering and purses are stateside, simple.
Tim More than 1 year ago
A bit of a glib column there Jay, considering the slowly sinking state of hiorse racing here in the US...
zolaism More than 1 year ago
It would appear that the well of material has been depleted so perhaps Jay could start scribbling about the 3 gentlemen who with the help of their associates have managed to ruin racing in N.A. viz; Ted Bassett #3,Frank Stronach &David Willmot
zolaism More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately the reality is racing in N.A. is so fractured there is nobody to take the culprits to task
Tim More than 1 year ago
A bit of a glib column there Jay, considering the deflating state of the horse racing industry nationwide. Have any good jokes about the Titanic or getting cancer?
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Jay, you are most likely a good guy, but you should think about a follow up article to explain what the heck your point is.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Another great gelding running in Hong Kong is Red Cadeaux, who won the Vase in 2012, bettering his third in 2011. He is fresh from his third time running second in the Melbourne Cup (2011, 2013, and this year) ; meanwhile,, he has won the Yorkshire Cup and placed in the '11 Irish St. Leger, '12 Coronation Cup, '13 Dubai World Cup, and '13 Spring Tenno Sho, not to mention the G2s and G3s.