Thoroughbred racing desperately needs better promotion and marketing, what with today's increased competition for the entertainment dollar. So why don't the racetracks do something about it?
Well, there is a little story circulating around New York these days that goes to show just how far the thoroughbred people still have to go before mastering the art of sports and show business.
It seems as though the New York Racing Association wanted to hold a "Steve Cauthen Day" one Saturday this month. Not a particularly clever idea, perhaps, but something that certainly was well-deserved. Cauthen generated more interest than Cinzano (the dead-ringer from Uruguay) at Belmont and Aqueduct this year - and that took a lot of generating.
The NYRA intended to give the 17-year-old rider a piece of crystal from Cartier as atoken of its appreciation. Cauthen's friends didn't think this was a sterling gesture. They suggested that Stevie Wonder might appreciate an automobile more than a chunk of glass.
The NYRA did not agree. It would be against its policy. So the two sides huffed an puffed and, eventually, blew the house in. Which is sad, because Cauthen merited the recognition - not that he needed it - and New York racing could have used the bigger business created by such a promotion.
Cauthen, for that matter, has made a shambles of the Thoroughbred Racing Association's code of ethics.
It was clearly against the code, supposedly, for a member track to pay money above or under the table for a special appearance by a "name" jockey or a famous horse. Then Cauthen came along. He drew thousands of extra fans to a track, wherever he rode, whether it was the leaky-roof circuit or the big time. The exposure helped him too, in that owners and trainers throughout the country had the opportunity to see him in action and might, in the future, offer him a mount on a top horse.
Most tracks gladly came up with an appearance fee for the young jockey, in addition to paying his expenses. A few of the cheap tracks refused. They balked at the idea of parting with a little money in order to make a heck of a lot more at their box office.
The TRcode has always been a joke. Tracks throughout the nation were to honor the traditional dates for each other's established stakes. Forget it. The competition is now cutthroat, a matter of survival in many regions. Do you believe Seattle Slew went to California or to the state of Washington for the fun of flying?
Cauthen, accordingly, had no reason to ride outside of New York for nothing. He was a professional at 16. Only the racetrack managements, therefore, were in danger of losing their amateur standing.
New York should have made every effort to keep Cauthen at home this winter, as much as possible. Instead, the young man is at Santa Anita Park in California, which means Aqueduct is in for a terribly cold January, February and March.
The "Boo of the Year" is a distinction that usually is difficult to determine in racing because there are so many candidates. The 1977 season developed a standout, however, the day before the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont.
"I don't think we are going to start My Juliet," trainer Jane Euster said. "There is some heat in her left front ankle. It's the same ankle she's had trouble with before; the one with the screw in it . . . She's been too good to risk her."
My Juliet, the champion sprinter of 1976, was a brilliant filly. Her speed was exceeded only by her courage.
Yet My Juliet ran in the Ruffian She set or pressed the pace to the top of the stretch, against Mississippi Mud and Cascapedia, and never quit trying, although it was obvious, as she passed the finish line, she was in distress and in danger of falling down.
"She's hurting," Euster acknowledged the next day. "She hurt herself in the same ankle . . . an owner like that doesn't deserve a horse like this." Amen.