There’s nothing Americans love quite as much as a comeback story.
Trans fats and political vitriol are close seconds, but make no mistake, resurrections are America’s newest pastime.
The thing about them, though, is they don’t happen often, and they’re damn hard work – no matter how easy Jason Voorhees or Spock or Ben Affleck’s career make them look. Most things that fall from grace lack what’s necessary to get back up. They either wither and die, or go on existing in some reduced state, mired in the quagmire, wistful for the good ole days.
Like horse racing.
A World War ago, the “Sport of Kings” occupied a stature such a moniker suggests. Along with boxing and baseball, horse racing dominated the sporting landscape. Today, though, save for the handful of legitimately royal owners, racing no longer stands on noble ground.
Surpassed in popularity by football and baseball and basketball and NASCAR and countless other sports, activities and distractions – like trans fats and political vitriol – horse racing today, on a national level, is little more than a niche sport.
Loved passionately by many, but ignored entirely by more – left to yearn for the type of attention it once enjoyed.
And so when Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome kicked away from the field and ran on to victory in the Preakness, the spirits of those left in the game rose, buoyed by the waters of hope – hope that a horse could win a Triple Crown for the first time in 36 years and bring to the game the type of media crush it hasn’t enjoyed in decades.
Hope that horse racing will soon be rescued from its relative anonymity, and restored to the power it once was.
But before we put the weight of an industry on California Chrome’s broad shoulders, let us accept this simple truth: racing is beyond saving – or, at the very least, is in need of more aggressive resuscitation than can be provided by a Triple Crown.
Indeed, no matter how high profile they are, the problems that have lead to horse racing’s decades-long decline will not be solved by three wins. Said problems are too big and too complicated, perhaps because racing itself is too big and too complicated.
To follow horse racing today is to monitor thousands of different thoroughbreds racing on hundreds of different tracks – each with different rules and regulations – across tens of varying divisions with no clearly defined season or objectively decided champion.
A difficult task for a die-hard, but an impossible one for a casual fan in this busy world of ever-shrinking attention spans – especially with NFL, NBA, and MLB products so readily available and engrained in 21st century culture.
And therein lies racing’s real problem, the one that’s dragged it down – it’s Gigli, to reference back to arc of Ben Affleck’s career. In it’s current form, the game is inaccessible to the layman, on whom sustainable growth is built. And a Triple Crown isn’t going to change that.
Nor will it alleviate the growing concerns regarding animal abuse and on-track breakdowns – informed by chaotic drug policies lacking firm, scientific backing – that have plagued the sport for the last few years.
A California Chrome Belmont win will certainly help; any attention is good, and a successful bid will, no doubt, bring more of that than the game has ever seen. But unless wholesale changes are made – unless racing acknowledges that the market has become over-saturated with product; unless it embraces some semblance of uniformity with regard to drugs, rules, and equipment; unless it openly acknowledges and combats animal abuse; unless it confronts the issue of breakdowns; unless it gives fans something to follow – that attention will quickly dissipate, and there will be no Argo.
The national media will retreat to their stories on trans fats and political vitriol, and the casual fan, enticed by history, will flee this sport they don’t understand and aren’t sure they want to try and stomach.
And racing will be left as it was found.
Author: Joseph White
Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at Joe@noticketsports.com.