Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

12 May 2009

Preakness Making For Great Drama

You know the old saying "Any press is good press", and with all the shenanigans this week racing has garnered a swarm of attention. Comments on ESPN racing articles have surged from and average of 0.5 to 36. The surge in attention is great news. Is the filly in? Are they going to keep her out? Who is colluding in the sinister plot to keep her out? Is Jackson trying to buy a triple crown race? How classy is Whitney to step aside for the filly? Why did they move Rachel to a trainer with so many drug positives? The story lines are vibrant and they have engaged a racing community. The mass appeal of Beyer numbers is the same mass appeal as the Harvard Math Review, these new story lines have the sensational mass appeal of the national enquirer.

It is about time that racing joined the party. The sports world gave up on handicapping the games and polite speak long ago. Gambling is hard but feeling emotionally outraged is easy. The sports world used to be a more like a regular racing day. There was a competition and people discussed the merits of the competitors, the games were played, bets were made and people marveled at the skills of the players. Now the sports world is more like "Day Of Our Lives". There are villains and people you love to hate and there are sensational bits of interpersonal gossip to ponder. Sports have become the daytime drama that women have loved for years but men never had. Racing has not participated much in the soap opera and it has hurt the races in the mass appeal market. The lead-up to the Preakness has changed all that. The game has plunged itself into the mud soaked sports soap opera scrum. The sensationalist maiden is broken. The Preakness is the N1X allowance for sensationalists and those basking in the national limelight. Racing is poised to capture some much needed mass appeal on the backs of a few flamboyant characters. Racing needs these characters who relish the spotlight.

Turn on ESPN or the local sports talk AM radio and most of the content centers around who is on steroids, who got busted for steroids, what kind of steroids they took, who is in jail, who gets along with who and he said she said. This is more like an episode of Days Of Our Lives than a three hour ball game. The competition is secondary to the storyline. For a longtime racing had no storylines outside of the competition. While only a few can read the racing from, everyone can read a sensational tabloid like the National Enquirer. Ballgames themselves are long, boring and dull but gossiping about people and taking a stand invokes emotional reactions. People like emotional reactions. Instead of focusing on the competition the sports soap opera drama has supplanted the game action itself as what the fans follow. The drama gives people the ability to take positions on popular issues. It creates a storyline and animates the lives of the fans. Instead of being a isolated sports fan following players who follow a ball the fans engage into a drama and feel like they are part of a vibrant social circle with heroes, friends and villains.

Look at how the Preakness drama has enlivened the horse racing community. There are dozens of blog posts that have stimulated scores of impassioned comments. The message boards are dominated by threads focusing on the Preakness lead-up. Almost everyone has an opinion and is able to take a posture either for or against Jess Jackson or whether they like Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. There are heroes, villains, drama and pending high jinks. A stand against Jess Jackson is a stand against greed. A stand against Zayat and Allen's plot to exclude Rachel Alexandra means you are for good sportsmanship. A stand for excluding Rachel Alexandra means you are a rugged iconoclast. Drama like this gives the fans an identity and engages them in a running debate with an exciting storyline.

This type of drama is usually absent from racing. Not only is it absent but racing usually shuns this type of drama, I thought racing was too classy for this type of nonsense. There was a time when I was uncomfortable with it but I have learned to embrace the soap opera drama for its immense potential to bring the masses into the racing fold. Like the NBA and NFL does this type of drama should be embraced. At first glance it may seem that this type of theater would turn off fans. Sure some may be turned off but the overwhelming majority of fans love this type of brouhaha and eat it up like a dog left home alone with a Porterhouse steak on the counter.

What happens on the backstretch stays on the backstretch. Racing has missed out on the billion dollar sports drama business. If racing wants to return to the main stream it needs more press, it needs more flamboyant characters like Ahmed Zayat saying more ostentatious things. People will posture for and against these issues but the key point is that if there is nothing to take a stand against, the masses will ignore racing. Most of the year the polite connections say the right things, the horses run in a circle, the bets are paid out and life goes on. This is not enough to capture the masses imagination. The play of the day is too hard to come up with and you look too foolish when it runs up the track. The public needs controversy for the sake of controversy. The public needs easy targets like Barry Bonds to take shots at. There needs to be heroes and villains. The NTRA should purchase Dutrow a years supply of Redbull to get him talking more. Jeff Mullins should issue press releases on a regular basis on how dumb the betting public is every time a 2-5 shot runs up the track. Stories should be concocted that a horse was excluded from a race even though they weren't even pointed to that race. If nobody does anything risque it makes for one boring soap opera. Bring it on limelight seekers and keep the soap opera rolling five days a week.

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