Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Last Stand

Hey, long time no see.

I know I have not posted in a very long time. This blog died for a lot of reasons, most of them personal. They ranged from the simple act of a stolen camera to complicated moments of near crippling depression. All of them contributed to a basic lack of want to write here. There have been plenty of moments since my last post where I wanted to comment on something happening in the horse racing world, but it just would not come out. Forcing it out would be counter-productive, so I would just walk away from whatever I was going to say. The thought of putting out even a simple post talking about a stakes race and offering picks, which were always my least favorite, became revolting. The more I thought about writing about the sport, and more importantly the sport itself, I realized I was quickly falling out of love with the game.

One of the biggest reasons that my feeling of being “burnt out” from racing accelerated quickly was when Hollywood Park closed. With the track gone, the rest of the racing calendar became too much of the same thing. Santa Anita & Del Mar are too similarly shaped (especially the main track) to incite variation, especially compared to what they were replacing. (Santa Anita & Del Mar are one-mile dirt ovals with similar homestretch lengths, while Hollywood was 1 & 1/8th mile oval with a longer stretch). With no differences in the dirt track, and only two minor differences of the turf course distances, monotony quickly sinks in. This is especially true with Santa Anita’s turf course, as 8 ½ furlong grass races cannot be run on the current configuration. With Santa Anita absorbing most of the open dates, the meet to begin the year becomes one long slog. The specialness of the downhill races falls away when witnessing them five times a week for 6 months. The slight alterations for Del Mar (swapping 6 ½ furlongs for 5 for the turf sprints, adding 1m 1/6th) aren’t enough to re-engage a person after months of drollness.

The change in venues affected me in many ways that hurt way more than I had expected. One of the biggest was it ruined my favorite race and time of year at the track. My favorite race was the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. With it being an end of the year test on the grass to give three-year olds one final chance against their own age group while at a sort of catch-all distance of a mile and a quarter. Thanksgiving weekend in general was my favorite time of the year to go to the track. Now with that part of the meet being held at Del Mar, the distance of the race is now a furlong shorter at a mile & 1/8th, it no longer holds the same challenge it once did. The quality has fallen off a cliff, and more questionable milers are among the contenders than the true stayers of the recent past. The fact that Del Mar is the host exacerbates the problem, as a tough but manageable ride on public transit to Hollywood Park has become an unaffordable trip on the train to Del Mar. (Driving is not a possibility for me)

The Southern California racing calendar has devolved into one place holding 2/3rd of the races. That one place is also the only that I have any sort of easy accessibility. That is a problem when you wish to enjoy live racing as much as possible. That is a major problem when you do not have many things you can do (on the cheap or otherwise) for fun. That is a fundamental problem when you let too much of one thing take up your personal life. That leads to what has become an unrepairable relationship with racing. Sadly though, it should not come to a surprise to anyone who truly knows me, as the one thing I consistently said since the clock started on Hollywood Park’s demise was that racing would become a non-entity in California within 10 (or 11) years of the track’s closure. And I would be done with the sport too. I just didn’t expect myself to be done before that.

The other main reason I soured on the game was an ever-building frustration of anger towards multiple groups in the sport. From the “Super-trainers” that dominate the major circuits (through legal or questionable means), the increasingly inconsistent decisions of the stewards, the managerial decisions that serve to only help themselves in spite of the game, to gamblers who talk about standing against one thing after another, yet supporting a different part of the product that is fundamentally worse than what they are fighting for. But the largest amount of anger is to the one person who controls the action while it is in progress, the jockey. I hold the riders to a higher standard than most, mainly because they deserve that amount of priority in a sport where the put their health on the line multiple times of day for the patron’s entertainment. Yet when you watch race after race after race after race where a complete lack of tactical awareness lead horses to places they have no chance of winning from, how can you enjoy, or even trust the product? From not sending a horse to a prominent position when it has not shown the ability to pass, to not using a horse’s tactical speed, letting others get away with unmolested leads through dawdling fractions when they never should have had the opportunity to do so. This feeling led me to not even enjoy either recent triple crown winners’ Belmont, as it felt more of a coronation than a final challenge. Where was the sense of pride from the other riders to prevent this supposedly meaningful accomplishment, such as McCarron’s masterful ride on Touch Gold in 1997, or the gang tackle mentality of preventing Smarty Jones winning in 2004? All too often now, this a feeling of passivity pervades into races that are supposed to be of the highest class. One of my only skills in life is judging intent and reacting accordingly, like watching which person will next punch “finish” on the self-service machine and getting in line behind them. So the (lack of) judgement riders show on a daily basis (admittedly unfairly) drives my disdain for the game further higher. And I do not need to do this to myself anymore.

So this has lead to the end of plenty of things. First, this is the last post for this blog. I do greatly appreciate your patronage way back when more than you can imagine. Second, this is the last time I bear myself to the internet in any form for a long time. (i.e. No posting on social media). Most importantly, this is the last weekend I shall let myself enjoy horse racing as a fan. I have barely held on to make it to this Breeders’ Cup, as I have been looking forward to the event being held there since it was announced. Years of not enjoying the Breeders’ Cup when it was held at Del Mar, Keeneland, and especially Santa Anita, to the point I did not even watch several races until the day after last year, definitely help drive me to this decision to walk away. So I wish you goodbye and good luck this weekend, and hopefully you don’t end up like me, making a last stand over something you once loved.

--Tencentcielo aka C.H.