Friday, May 15, 2009

CAN MINE THAT BIRD BE RACING’S MUCH NEEDED NEW HERO?

Of course, the sport of horseracing could use a Triple Crown hero.

The Sport of Kings started declining in the 1950's when it failed to a) embrace television as a way to communicate with its fans (and potential fans) and b) notice that racing no longer had a monopoly on legal betting. Years of intense competition for people's time and entertainment dollars haven't helped.

Throw in some well documented calamities like Barbaro and Eight Belles, and horse racing finds itself over in the "dust bin" with boxing and track field - two other sports that once held prominent spots in the nation's sporting conscience.

So, of course, the sport could use a Triple Crown winner, but that's not as simple a solution as it seems. While a Triple Crown winner increases media coverage and fan interest and, theoretically, ultimately grows the sport, for the folks in the horse racing and breeding industry it's important that the "next big thing" also have a positive impact on the breed.

Virginia-bred Secretariat was an incredible racehorse - undeniable a freak of nature in terms of his athleticism. However, he wasn't a big success at stud and only his daughters (which have proven to be good broodmares especially when mated with stallions from the popular Northern Dancer line) will have a lasting impact on the breed.

Seattle Slew who won the Triple Crown in 1977 was a prominent sire and his blood still flows in the veins of famous thoroughbred sires via his son A.P. Indy. Affirmed the Triple Crown winner of 1978 was a useful sire, but his bloodline is hard to find today.

That brings us to the “what if” game. Many horses have come close to winning the Triple Crown. Back in 1981, Virginia-bred Pleasant Colony won the Derby and Preakness, but finished third in the Belmont. He went on to be a very productive Thoroughbred sire and his bloodline via his sire His Majesty was, and still is, an important outcross. Had he won the Triple Crown, he may have gotten more and better mares and he may have been an even more successful sire.

Then there's Real Quiet. In 1998, he lost the Triple Crown in the Belmont by a nose to Victory Gallop, and, in spite of being a product of the prolific Mr. Prospector sire line, his stud career has not produced a major champion or a high number of stakes winners.

And so it goes.

Enter Mine That Bird - a gelding. Perhaps he's the new Seabiscuit? Perhaps he can pull of the Triple Crown and the long term impact on the industry will be a happy moot point as he can't reproduce. Talk about nice and simple.

Without the crushing burden of future syndication value, maybe the little gelding-from-New-Mexico-that-could can become a populist hero the likes of Kelso, Forego, John Henry or, more recently, Funny Cide.

No, his owners aren’t as warm and fuzzy as the Funny Cide bunch that travelled the Triple Crown trail in a school bus. And, yes, it seems unlikely that T.A.H. Pop Culture Editor Young A.T. will deliberately march across an NTRA cocktail party in Saratoga to meet Mark Allen as she did Knowlton, but if Mine That Bird keeps winning that chip that clearly weighs heavily on the Derby winner’s connection’s shoulders might get a bit lighter and in some public relations sunshine might sneak. OK, it’s a longshot, but a horse has gotta dream.

Not that this week helped. First there was the “block Rachel Alexandra” news early in the week, and since then the Derby winner has been virtually ignored by the media.

While it’s easy to dismiss Mine That Bird’s victory as a fluke due to weather and track conditions and a brilliant ride, history tells us that Derby winners are good horses. A few have been a bit inconsistent (Virginia-bred Sea Hero comes to mine), but generally speaking, if you can win the first Saturday in May at Churchill you’ve got yourself a damn nice horse.

No reason, Mine That Bird can’t be that horse.

Don’t be fooled by the cowboy hats and the horse trailer. As jet setting Triple Crown vet and Hall of Fame nominee Bob Baffert recently said, “It doesn’t matter if he wears a cowboy hat or if he vanned the horse. I used to wear a cowboy hat and van my own horses. I started the same way. He did a good job and nobody’s giving him any credit for it. I think the horse is legit. You can’t throw him out.”

So the question is can Mine That Bird knock off the Super Filly? Can he become this generation’s Seabiscuit?

Maybe he's the "perfect" Triple Crown winner for right here, right now…

Paul Moran of ESPN also weighs in on racing's need for a hero.

1 comment:

  1. i am thinking about your question?
    maybe you are right...

    ReplyDelete

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