Nov 3rd 2009 06:57 pm |
Last week I wrote about the Daily Racing Form Online Archive Project, this week I am going back to the first Breeders Cup through the pages of the DRF that are now online courtesy of the Keeneland Library and the University of Kentucky.
IMAGE: Front page of the Daily Racing Form, November 10, 1984
We are a few days away from this year’s Breeders Cup — one of the highlights of the year for racing fans. As much as we might complain about the direction the BC has taken over the years, the racing is always top notch and the opportunities for wagering are unmatched by any day on the racing calendar.
On November 9th 1984, the day before the first Breeders Cup, the Daily Racing Form published a letter of appreciation from Cup originator John Gaines. In the letter, he included a quote from Ben Franklin on the notion of cooperation and, in his own words, laid out his vision for what the BC represented in 1984. Here are a few selections (read the full letter here):
“…for the first time in the history of the sport the owners and breeders have taken charge of their own destiny and accepted responsibility for both the improvement of the breed and improvement of the sport…”
“Racing has acquired a powerful new working partner in the visual media that firmly believes that the Breeders Cup will become one of the premier events in the world of sports….The challenge to the visual media in presenting the Breeder’s Cup for this year and for future years is to transcend entertainment and, like the great artists of the past, reveal with honesty and freshness and insight the relationship of a man to his horse…”
“…At times we have all been dismayed by how the visual and written media have portrayed both the image and substance of our sport. Racing must accept its share of responsibility for this profound problem. From our public’s viewpoint Racing somehow seems frantically at once in focus and then out of focus. The excessive commercialization of racing and our sins are many and the disgraceful lack of uniform rules of Racing has created confusion, resentment, misunderstanding, and malaise. If we are unable to understand ourselves, who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, then we cannot expect Racing’s public to comprehend the true nature of our sport.”
“The fundamental purpose of the Breeders Cup is to institutionalize Racing’s value system and to establish permanent priorities that once and for all place the sporting aspect of Racing first. The simple single mission of the Breeders Cup is to discover who has the best horse.”
“May future generations of horsemen say that today a new tradition was born within our sport today…”
On race day, November 10th, 1984, the late, great Joe Hirsch dedicated the majority of his article to the words of the late, great John Gaines. Here are some selected quotes from the BC founder (read the full article here):
“Taking the long view, I hope expectations are not so high for the first Breeders Cup that people will be disappointed with the results….it took several years for the Super Bowl to become part of the national psyche. It will take at least that long in this case because money does not buy tradition. Tradition must be earned in front of the crowd.”
“Racing has only one thing to present to the public. Simply, it is, ‘who has the best horse?’ We in racing find the answer to this question interesting and perpetually challenging. I think the public will eventually find the answer as fascinating as racing men and women, but this won’t happen over night…”
“…The Breeders Cup could be a potent weapon against racing’s major enemies, casino gambling and all-sports betting…At the least, the Breeders Cup is providing some hope for racing and the timeliness of that should be very apparent.”
What is most striking – reading the words of John Gaines twenty-six years later – is what is missing here. In his bold declaration on the foundation of the BC he does not acknowledge gamblers and racing fans as major players. Instead, we hear about the amorphous “public” and the only reference to gambling is in the context of “racing’s major enemies.”
The Breeders Cup is one of the best things to ever happen to American racing and everyone involved in making it a reality deserve the highest of praise but looking at the goals set forth by John Gaines it has failed to live up to some of its initial expectations. Hopes to see the BC become a significant media event on par with the Super Bowl; enhance the reputation of the sport in the public mind; or generate new interest for racing as a “sport”, have not come to pass. In reading the words of John Gaines, it is clear that some of the founders intentions for the Breeders Cup are no closer today then they were in 1984.
New forms of media, accessibility to wagering, and shifting attitudes towards gambling are a few of the changes that make some of the original goals of the Breeders Cup in need of revision. The hopes and dreams for making racing a mainstream “sport”, should to take a back seat to the realties that one of the key components to racing’s popularity is (and always will be) gambling. Gamblers (large and small) make up the core of the current (and future) fan base.
This year has seen some indications that the BC leadership is beginning to understand that fans/gamblers are the keys to the future success of the Breeders Cup. We as fans want the BC to succeed just as much as the owners, breeders, and executives. The dedicated race fans who invest their time, energy, and hard earned money into the Breeders Cup should be the focus moving forward. The people in charge of racing and the BC need to understand that the key to creating more fans is making sure the ones you already have are happy.
NOTES, SOURCES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Letter of Appreciation from Breeders’ Cup Chairman John Gaines”, Daily Racing Form, November 9, 1984
“Gaines, Cup Originator, Says It’s ‘Here to Stay'”, Daily Racing Form, November 10, 1984
Best of luck to everyone making wagers on the Breeders Cup. I might make a bet or two on Friday but will focus much of my attention on Saturday. For the first time in many years, I am going to forgo a trip to Delaware Park to watch and wager on the big races. I am a bit resentful about the amount of marketing effort that they have put into sports betting when they do little to nothing for the Breeders Cup. This is yet another case of race fans being taken for granted. They won’t be seeing a dime of my bankroll this year, I’ll be watching from home and making plays via TwinSpires.
If you are in the hunt for information about this year’s Breeders Cup, be sure to check out http://www.breederscup360.com/. And, of course, the Daily Racing Form Breeder Cup section is always a great source. I have also been keeping an eye on the Thoroughbred Times site this year — they have put together a well organized portal for BC info.
Thanks For Reading and Good Luck!