Horse racing in the United States is largely ignored by newspapers except during the Triple Crown season in the Spring of the year. The great turf writers of the past are long gone and most major newspapers do not have a full-time reporter assigned to horse racing. The vast majority of the writers that cover the Triple Crown races stick to bringing readers the details on the contenders and their connections. However, without fail, some writers turn out essentially attack pieces on horse racing in the guise of good journalism and with the imprimatur of a newspaper.
Simply put, in some circles, it has become fashionable to pile on horse racing.
This year, various writers have published on drugs in horse racing, unwanted racehorses and slaughter, breakdowns (usually focused on Barbaro and Eight Belles), the death of jockey Michael Baze, and the elitism of the sport and how the presentation of the Kentucky Derby on television is an anachronism. Often, there is a perfunctory and gratuitous reference to how the sport is dying. All of these topics are, of course, valid subjects for consideration and discussion. However, what is written about them is typically one-sided and highly negative. For example, the assertion that racing is “a fading temple,” as one writer put it, is cavalierly thrown out with no reference whatsoever, for example, to the record attendance at this year’s Kentucky Derby, or the near-record betting handle, and the enhanced television ratings for the Preakness. The problems of slaughter, drugs, and breakdowns are normally presented with little or no counterbalance regarding what the horse racing industry is doing to address them.
There are two main explanations for why some sports writers attack horse racing. First, in a technological age in which newspapers are vying for attention in the midst of a myriad of old and new media, writers desperate for attention know that controversial approaches attract readers and horse racing is a convenient and mostly unarmed target (there is no well-funded NBA, NFL, or MLB public relations arm to fight back). The National Inquirer philosophy long ago found its way into conventional newspapers. An article on the death of a jockey due to a drug overdose, or owing to bulimia, is apt to gain more readers than an article on how fast the Preakness contenders have worked in the week leading up to the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Second, some writers know little or nothing about horse racing. Rather than do the research and legwork necessary to write a well-balanced article presenting multiple perspectives on, say, race-day medication, they lazily turn out a hatchet job full of anecdotes and innuendo. The article gets published and the writer is off the hook to write a racing-related article until next year.
Here are some suggested topics for sports writers who need to publish sensational articles during the hiatus following the upcoming Belmont Stakes and the 2012 Kentucky Derby: the well-documented far-above-average incidence of dementia among former National Football League players; the academic fraud being perpetrated by most universities that offer big-time college football and basketball; substance abuse in major professional sports; and the sorry financial demise of many former NBA multimillionaires. Of course, these targets are not quite as inviting as beating up on horse racing because sports writers do not like being shunned by the hometown coaches and teams. It takes courage to attack these sacred cows.
The best article of all would delve into one of the most amazing developing stories of the 21st century—the decay and perhaps impending demise of most print newspapers. That is a development nearly 575 years in the making, since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. By newspaper standards, the economic health of horse racing looks pretty darn good.
Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business