12/12/2014 3:27PM

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.