Saturday, 22 August 2009

The World Isn't Waiting

Claire Novak’s most recent article has stirred up some controversy in the racing blogosphere. Novak writes for the racing section of ESPN.com, the website of the world’s largest sports network.

One of the critical responses was by Ed DeRosa, usually one of the better turf writers. I strongly disagree with most of his article for reasons discussed there, but it’s one of the minor arguments he brought up (one I didn’t respond to on his site) which keeps coming back to my mind.

Novak’s argument for questioning the sportsmanship of Jess Jackson was, among other things, this:
the completely ridiculous fact that reporters (and the public) had to wait for the overnight to come out to discover she would not be starting in Saturday's Alabama, one of five races listed as "under consideration" by her connections. [...] Enough cat-and-mouse. Set a date for a press conference, make up your mind, and make the announcement. That's what a true sportsman would do.

To which DeRosa responded:
Some have lamented that neither Jackson nor trainer Steve Asmussen publicly stated that Rachel Alexandra would not enter the Alabama Stakes, but her workout pattern clearly indicated that she would not be racing this week. For Asmussen, an easy work back followed by a bullet means a race is at least another week away. John Scheinman of the NYRA press office and trainer Mark Hennig both noticed that, so it's not like deciphering Asmussen's moves required possession of the Rosetta Stone or an advanced degree in reading tea leaves.
It’s a revealing statement, and a representative one, I fear. If people in the racing media actually think like this, it explains a lot.

Sorry racing press, the mainstream media isn’t in the habit of reading NYRA workout summaries, or studying the subtleties of the workout patterns of the nation’s Top 50 trainers. They won’t get into that habit either. ESPN is, however, in the habit of picking the sports they deem most marketable, and sports that don’t offer information aren’t marketable.

Jackson, the man who said he bought Rachel Alexandra to broaden racing's appeal, knows that. Kendall-Jackson wine bottles include information as to the appellation, grape composition, taste characteristics etc.. Why? Because customers are unlikely to buy a blank bottle for 25$, that’s why. TV networks are in exactly the same position. As long as they have a dozen sporting events offering press kits, full access and all kinds of help, they would be stupid to instead reserve a timeslot for a sport whose protagonists don’t think they need to cooperate. No manager in his right mind will choose to broadcast races that could end up being interesting, or not; one's they don't know how to promote until three days before the event.

In other sports, locker room access is a given, any development will immediately spawn a press release. In racing, you get a post-race interview with some winning horseman with a history, who snots out a few cryptic comments about “considering five or six options for the horse’s next start”. And of course: “We want to do the best by the horse! Currently our filly thinks the Woodward purse is 500K too low”.


(Although the image on top is by a South African producer actually called “Blank Bottle”, the bottle isn’t actually blank. The pictured example is a Shiraz with 2% Viognier; from the Paarl Mountains, and characterized by “intense fruit and complexity”, according to the producer.)

11 comments:

  1. You couldn't be more right, and as a media person myself, your points here will prompt a post of my own, something you're very good at accomplishing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jess Jackson's a billionaire and a publicity hound. This is how it works at the network level with a man of his level of wealth and stuture -- he's in touch with a network bigshot, who knows exactly when and where the filly may run. He knows more than the general reporter -- people like claire and glenn. when jess decides, that guy will know, because mr. jackson loves being on tv and entering the winners' circle. he had such a dose of it with curlin, and it looked like he'd be out of the limelight until his people came up with the filly.
    this filly has captured enough general audience attention that the network will put her on tv.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sid: You're probably right (thanks for sharing). I'm not familiar with Jess's acquaintances, but he certainly seems to love the spotlight.

    The main point of this post really wasn't even to criticize Jackson but to show the difference in perception between a writer of the TT (a major publication within racing circles, but largely unknown to outsiders) and Novak (a racing writer for a major mainstream publication, who I'd trust to be more familiar with the workings of sports TV and journalism).

    Racing insiders too often sound like they are holding the best cards when in fact they are the ones in search of partner. ESPN can live without racing. If racing can live without a major-league outlet is doubtful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Malcer,

    What happened to being a reporter? Why is there this expectation that Jackson (or anyone) should spoon feed information to the press?

    I want to know where Rachel will run next as much as anyone else, and I want to share that information with my readers.

    So rather than wait around for Jackson, I asked around, too, and some people in the know alerted me to the workout pattern.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Eddie,

    Sports that want to be covered make it easy. They make information accessible. That isn't necessarily due to any laziness on a reporter's part, it's the simple fact that with so many options out there to be covered, those who want a lot of ink or airtime have to be proactive.

    Those that yank the media's collective chain often enough start getting ignored.

    I just checked the New York Times archives and if it wasn't for NYRA trying to drum up a Rachel-Zenyatta match, the Gray Lady wouldn't have published a word about the best racehorse in America since the morning after she won her last race now three weeks ago.

    But ... I really came here to share something with the author of "The Dresden File."

    Someone at Thoroughbredchampions.com's chat board linked to my blog and a bunch of people have been reading today. But one nitwit who goes by the nickname "Song of Solomon" (a total lack of truth in advertising, as Solomon implies wisdom) said that when he saw my blog was prompted by reading yours from Germany, he "stopped reading."

    He's pissed about Sea the Stars being so highly regarded when he's allegedly quite unproven, though I gather from some others' comments that this guy's a Quality Road fan, a horse with four lifetime starts. ... Anyway, he apparently considers all of European horse racing fandom to be boneheads because he so dislikes the buzz around Sea the Stars, and thus he doesn't care what anyone outside the U.S. thinks of Jess Jackson and Rachel Alexandra.

    When the first guy suggested he'd missed the point and told him he really should've kept reading, the response was, "What does some European blogger's opinion have to do with anything?"

    As though my whole post was merely a regurgitation of your opinion. Or maybe he thinks I'm ... GASP! ... European.

    ReplyDelete
  6. if he's so pissed off about sea the stars, i wonder what he'd think about a horse like, say, slovakian and czech derby winner age of jape . . /

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Eddie D:

    thanks for your response. Glenn already answered your question, but since you asked me:

    Jackson has said he wants to campaign RA in a way that advertises the sport. On the track he has done so for the most part, but to promote racing to a wider audience he will need the media. To appeal to most of their target audience, the mainstream media can do with little to no racing coverage, so there's no doubt which side has to make an effort to accommodate the other one.

    @Glenn: Song of Salmonella didn't say that at your blog or mine. I don't usually respond to behind-my-back badmouthing (especially on the net) and his "logic" pretty much ridicules itself. The only thing I want to respond to is that Sea The Stars is "unproven".

    We're talking about a horse who comfortably won the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby, thus proving his superiority among his crop (from 8 to 12f). He went on to win two races open to older horses.

    In his last start he only beat three horses, but if you look at this race a little closer (or watch it), you'll notice that this was a three-on-one match race. Ballydoyle had entered a sprinter and a 10f horse for no other reason than to set a grueling pace and set up the race for their ace (which they did). Said ace Mastercraftsman (winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace Stakes) ran stronger than in any of his four G1 wins and managed to actually test STS, but the Derby winner still got by safely.

    If there is one proven three-year-old on earth, it's Sea The Stars.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I didn't expect a rebuttal of the message board guy from you. But I don't really know another way to contact you with information, either. :-)

    To me, it's funny. A little frustrating at times, but funny.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The scary thing, folks, is that "Song of Solomon" runs the whole Thoroughbred Champions site.

    ReplyDelete