Jul 2, 2011
Local media and racing fans need to see bigger picture
The thoroughbred horse racing industry has its share of problems. If it were to be a single business entity, the standard "these conditions raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern" clause that is seen in the financial statements of troubled companies would appear in theirs. Anyone involved in racing knows there are problems, and most are willing to lend thought and suggestions to fixing them.
But many in the Saratoga Springs area don't want any part of that messy conversation. After all, the local summer meet at the Old Course on Union Avenue is the most successful in the land. If it works here, that must mean it works everywhere -- or so the thinking seems to go. Living in such a vacuum is convenient and soothing. Who needs the real world?
The Saratogian newspaper -- long one of this column's favorite whipping boys -- plays right into this mix by failing to offer a forum for a big picture look at the myriad of problems out there. Yes, it will publish who/what/where stories on some noisy subject matters of the sport; and yes its racing columnist will occasionally be allowed to rightfully rant about some injustice. But for the most part, it seems to have as its policy one of "don't rock the boat" and "don't stir the natives" when it comes to the soft white underbelly of racing-related issues and developments.
Case in point is Saturday's simple what's happening soon story titled Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay to headline gala benefiting Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Now there's a headline that needs to be shortened. But that's not the point. Nor is the fact that a background story on the fate of a similar (but now gone) annual event's originator might be of interest to the reader (hint: the Bernie Madoff affair).
Instead, this story highlights how this newspaper -- the daily rag of the city of the nation's greatest race track -- has no real commitment to filling that very role. Let's point out two examples from the story mentioned:
- Claim: "More than 3,000 thoroughbreds per year retire from America’s racetracks and need new homes and second careers."
- Fact: This figure does not add up. Given that up to 30,000 thoroughbreds are born each year, the writer's number could be off by a factor of 10.
- Claim: "Some tracks such as Philadelphia Park, Suffolk Downs and Finger Lakes have full-fledged retirement programs. Retirement isn’t as much of an issue at New York Racing Association tracks, including Saratoga Race Course, because they typically have higher quality horses that quite often go to breeding programs when their racing days are over."
- Fact: Retirement is very much an issue at NYRA. The statement inferring that Saratoga's quality-driven bloodstock results in more of them going to post-racing breeding careers is not-quite correct. While the female component might see a 40-60% transition to becoming race mares, the male population is nowhere in that territory. I'd be surprised if the figure was north of 2 or 3%.
Nitpicking? Maybe. Whitewashing? Ditto. But the foregone conclusion here is that these two example highlight the paper's unwillingness and/or inability to see the bigger picture of what's really going on on the wider world of racing. It also just might be a good mirror of the general local populace's shortcomings on this matter as well
NOTE: this viewpoint is not meant to be an attack on the author of this story. It is my understanding that the gentleman is fairly new to the city and is not, in fact, part the paper's Sports Department. But he is being asked to 'cover' what is basically a sports story. There lies the problem, but one that is so very common in today's news journalism world: young reporters being asked to greatly widen their coverage areas and workloads because of the dire business straits of the firms for whom they are employed. It is no wonder that these young men and women typically serve very short terms before they leave the field of journalism entirely.