Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's all in the Production

I arrived back from the land of the winter jump meets just in time to watch Tale of Ekati win the Cigar Mile. I completely agree with the DQ of Harlem Rocker. Harlem Rocker who had a full head of steam while taking the lead definitely impeded the forward progress of Tale of Ekati. The ability for Tale of Ekati to re-rally and just about catch a full-out, momentum-carried Harlem Rocker, is nothing short of amazing all by itself.

Tale of Ekati just continues to get better. By winning the Cigar he adds a second Grade I to his resume (The Wood Memorial being the other!), along with his last out Grade II conquest of the Jerome. He is winning the races that make one think that he will make a fine sire. Though the bottom of his pedigree is not one that I would target I don't think it would deter many.

While away of all the performances that I wasn't able to watch live I was most impressed with the performances of Einstein in the Clark (grII) and Hyperbaric's performance in the Citation (gr IT). I always love to see the older horses do well and with Hyperbaric being gelded we are sure to see many more scintillating performances from him. It's also good to see Helen Pitts to have the opportunity to win the big races. She has shown so much skill and class in the past that one can't help but root for her barn.

Over in Ireland the jump season is on until March. I suppose it's a little like our winter season in that many different horses now get to compete and give (most) of the flat horses a much needed rest- by contrast by late January many of our big guns are already being wound up. It's very hard to adjust to watching that type of racing. Sure we have a jump circuit. But with the exception of the few races at Saratoga most of us never see them. Many of the races are several miles in distance over some impressive hedges and the races (seem to me) are ones of endurance. The pace is obviously much slower and calculated and you spot a tiring horse much more by the way it takes the jump than how it is running -at least that's my observation.

While I can imagine gaining a great appreciation for the jumps after watching and getting to know it's idiosyncrasies over time I still couldn't help wanting to see some horses just run an old fashioned, gut wrenching, dirt mile! I have an acquaintance that had made a very good living at the track for many years in Ireland. I was hoping to spend a good amount of time with him to pick his brain. Unfortunately there was not as much time as I had hoped. Travel schedules seldom work out the way we plan, but it was terrific nonetheless. You can really appreciate the effort put forth by these horses. When they come up to the line many of them cannot manage anything more than a walk! I saw one race in which the place horse, exhausted, had slowed to a walk after the final hedge but after being passed by another foe somehow got back up to a slow gallop to retain place! While not exciting in the way we are used to it was inspiring. You could see how spent the horses are and the courage they need. For years I have been hearing from some Irish friends about the great Arkle - Man O' War to them - but it's hard to truly understand his greatness without having enough experience watching and appreciating that type of racing. I've read a few books about him but again while they put his accomplishments in perspective I wish I had a better feel for the racing. However, if I wasn't already a horse fan I probably wouldn't have continued to watch the sport because I wouldn't have a built in appreciation for the effort put forth. Being a fan I wanted to see more to try to appreciate it but often my prejudices made it less than compelling for me. The basic prejudice results from our speed game. Here horses most often go as fast as they can for as far as they are able. It's an adjustment. It's not better just different.

These thoughts made me think about how hard it is to create new fans here as well. Horse racing is very intimidating and nonsensical to the un-indoctrinated. A sprint event of a minute and ten seconds seems silly and inaccessible to them and a mile and a quarter in two minutes is no more enlightening . It is really not until the race slows down for a fan that they can appreciate the sport. It strikes me that if we can slow down the sport for them it may be more compelling and digestible. So how do we slow down the sport? I don't mean literally slow it down. But perhaps aspects that were compelling to me as I was a fledgling fan may also work for others. And the most compelling aspect is the performance of the horse itself. When you experience your first race up close through the glasses and see a horse, nostrils flared breathing fire, while at the same time on the brink of exhaustion, continue to the wire you are either going to be hooked or not. It's that close up and personal view of racing that can make the difference. So in wondering how to accomplish this I think we can learn a little from jump racing. When watching the races in Ireland on a monitor or TV it seemed that almost every jump had it's own camera so you didn't have to see the race from afar. While it was still a wide view (in that it encompassed the entire hedge) it was close enough to make you hurt if you saw a horse go through the hedge instead of over. More cameras is what we need to slow the race down for fans and would-be fans. There should be one at every gate and at several spots all along the course -at very least at every pole. And these cameras ought to be able to give us CLOSE! ups of the racing. This would make for much more compelling and exciting viewership. It would in essence slow the race down, making it more accessible. Even as a devoted fan the usual view of the break and the run down the backstretch is less than inspiring, and for all intents and purposes shortens the race to the stretch run. So a race for the uninitiated tends to be somewhere between 24 to 36 seconds! We need to show the physicality and exertion of these athletes all the way around. The race is not just the stretch. I think how the sport is presented may be a big problem. Some of the races from Dubai are great just because of their camera work, especially from the lead car that tracks the race from inside the rail. It's time to take a lesson from Hollywood (not Hollywood Park) and put some time, effort and money into production. As it is now, with the exception of the triple crown races, the production is only for the betting fan. The sport should be delivered by highlighting its' best assets, the horses up close every step of the way; preferably from head on. This would also augment the split screen that many tracks utilize. While you can see the shape of the race on the wide screen view we will also be able to watch the lead horses up close and personal. It would also give a much better perspective to the main view often presented of the race. So often when a horse is alone on the lead the main shot is that horse alone with no other runner in view. You are forced to watch the wide impersonal view. With an up close view we can "see" how easily a horse is running or how much it may may be expending while having at least some perspective of what is behind them. As people that take photographs know a long lens can greatly shorten the distance between objects. So the wide screen view of the race would offer perspective while the main picture continues to compel us (to watch). This would present the sport in its' most exciting and digestible form that both novice and hard core fan would appreciate. Just an idea that I would like to see tried. Perhaps if we slow it down through production they (new fans) will come.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gone Fishing

"Gone Fishing" across the pond. Back in December. Hope to stop by Leopardstown and some of the yards. If I find anything of interest I'll try to find a computer and you'll know about it. Otherwise ADW's will probably be the subject I return with, unless something unforeseen, like sanity, occurs between now and then.Talk with you in December.