We need more horse racing coverage

Nov 17, 2015 3:00 AM

Until the start of the 21st Century, most metropolitan daily newspapers had a full time Thoroughbred racing writer to complement the full time sports’ reporters who covered – and still cover – baseball, football and basketball.

A few newspapers even had a regular boxing writer, while full time writers still exist to cover basketball and football on the high school, college and professional levels. This in addition to regular columnists who continue to offer their perspectives on any sport’s issue, two or three times a week.

For more than 25 years, I too was a full time reporter-columnist who covered horse racing for various newspapers from coast to coast. But, as we turned into the 21st Century, almost every racing writer in the country, myself included, suddenly found ourselves on the outside looking in. Cost conscious newspapers slashed operating budgets and chose to rely upon wire service reports while only allowing columns to be published once a week, or bi-weekly, on a freelance basis.

While under this radically changed system – which progressively has seen almost every full time racing writer lose his or her gig – I believe racing does not get the complete coverage the sport deserves. This, for a sport that needs more, not less coverage, given racing involves billions of dollars in investment; billions more legally wagered by its fans each year, and has had a strong need to deal with lingering drug issues; difficult political issues, and issues such as the embarrassing Maria Borell-Mattress Mac-Runhappy story that has overshadowed a truly great Breeders’ Cup.

I mention all of this, not so much to lament the limited amount of racing coverage in our daily newspapers by top reporters – although that is part of my motive – but, mostly to utilize this forum to focus on a couple of terrific racing writers who still are putting out useful facts and commentary in relatively limited forums.

I do this also to show racing fans who regularly read this fine weekly publication that there are good thoughts being shared sporadically, by experienced racing columnists, if only you know where to look.

For instance: Last week Charlie Hayward, former CEO of the New York Racing Association, who now publishes a good weekly appropriately titled “Thoroughbred Racing Commentary,” wrote a column citing “the inconsistencies in drug rules and testing procedures from state to state.”

I dare say in today’s newspaper world, you might not see anything like it.

Frankly, in his excellent commentary Hayward boldly argued genuine uniformity and fewer legalized drugs in racing along with vastly improved drug testing “is a necessity;” or the lack of same, “could spell the end to pari-mutuel racing in America.”

It is no surprise many horsemen’s groups continually argue against tighter control of drugs in racing. After all, the majority of horsemen throughout America vehemently pushed for and succeeded in legalizing Lasix and other racetrack drugs. The net result of their efforts is that Lasix is permitted in virtually every state (although not in Europe), with no end in sight.

Frankly, unless the majority of horsemen suddenly heed Hayward’s warnings and push for a reversal of the current trend, betting handles will continue to decline, especially in states that currently lack adequate funds to properly curb drug abuse in the sport.

Another very good racing writer-columnist, Bill Finley, offered this interesting report that might surprise those who believed the 2-year-old filly Songbird ran a much better race than the 2-year-old colt Nyquist when each won their respective $2 million Breeders’ Cup races for 2 year olds on Oct. 31.

Finley, by the way, was the regular racing writer-columnist for the New York Daily News for more than 20 years before he was among the many excellent reporters who were purged from their posts as described above.

Finley now provides freelance columns for ESPN.com and recently showed his acumen by pointing out that Songbird earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for winning the 1-1/16 mile BCup Juvenile Fillies in 1:42.73. This clocking obviously was faster than Nyquist’s 1:43.79, which earned him an 89 Beyer Fig.

Yet, as Finley insightfully pointed out, Nyquist deserved extra credit for his race because he was so wide all the way around the track, while Songbird had a ground-saving inside trip!

Believe what you will, but sometimes it takes a good reporter-columnist to dig into what seems to be true before we learn what actually is true. While Finley and Hayward provided two good illustrations of that last week, and there are many others I could cite, I still believe racing fans have too few opportunities to share their useful insights in sufficient newspaper forums.

Added Note: Forgive me here for adding another comment on the nagging Mattress Mac-Borell story, which has been getting more space than it probably deserves. By the time all peripheral issues are tossed out – my guess is Mr. McIngvale will be shelling out a lot more than the $100K-plus Borell has been seeking to end what was a fairy tale story until she was fired the day after McIngvale’s Runhappy won the $1.5 million BC Sprint, Oct. 31.

Of greater import, I further believe each racing state needs to develop a sensible, iron-clad contract that will spell out the exact fees and bonuses owners must pay trainers who win Graded stakes and/or national championships.

Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas & is writing a new book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Email: SteveDavidowitz @GamingToday.com.