By John Piassek
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Belmont Isn’t — and Never Had to Be — All About Nyquist
Under normal circumstances, a race featuring stars of the three-year-old division like Exaggerator, Destin, Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause and Creator would deservedly be getting a lot of hype. Throw in horses like Cherry Wine, Lani, and Mo Tom, and it would be fantastic. If this was the Haskell, or the Travers, or the Pennsylvania Derby, racing social media would be abuzz.
However, the horses listed above comprise the field for the Belmont Stakes. And because it doesn’t include Nyquist, people have written off the Belmont as borderline irrelevant. That’s a shame.
When it was announced last week that Kentucky Derby winner and two-year-old champion Nyquist would not run in the Belmont due to an elevated temperature, the consensus among the racing world was that the sky had fallen. People began fretting over the expected Belmont attendance, others wondered what would happen to television ratings, and more acted as if it was scarcely worth the bother to even run the race. One Twitter personality dryly commented, “NYRA should look on the bright side here. Now, I’m not sure what the bright side is, but they should definitely find one and look on it”.
To me, this illustrates three major problems with racing, and how it’s promoted on a national level:
- Racing in the general consciousness revolves around the Kentucky Derby winner.
- Racing in the general consciousness also revolves around the pursuit of a Triple Crown.
- Therefore, people only care about racing when there is the potential of a Triple Crown. Once that possibility dies out, many people don’t care about the Belmont. Somehow, many racing fans also feel the same way.
This is roughly the equivalent of the NFL hyping up a team’s pursuit of the first undefeated season since the Miami Dolphins in 1972, promoting the last undefeated team left, then having everyone in the country tune out when that team loses. It would be an insane way to go about marketing the sport. Yet, that’s what racing seems to do. It likes to base everything around a horse’s pursuit at something that has occurred once in the past 35 years.
Racing cannot, and should not, let its place in the national sports spectrum revolve around Nyquist, as if he is the sun, moon, and stars. Exaggerator is a very good three-year-old: he’s won two grade one stakes races this year, he’s the winner of the Preakness, and he’s more than capable of having a big three-year-old season. Not to mention, almost everyone in the race ran in the Kentucky Derby. It’s a race in the true spirit of what the Triple Crown should be: a series of races featuring the best three-year-olds in the country, not one horse pursuing three victories in five weeks.
Not to mention, focusing exclusively on the Kentucky Derby winner blinds the general public to the other fascinating stories in racing, not only in the three-year-old division, but across the sport. How great is a story of a lovable veteran like the grass sprinter Ben’s Cat, or the dominant older mare Tepin, or the brilliant three-year-old filly Songbird? Everyone loves a great sports story; it’s the reason why people watch sporting events that they previously had no rooting interest in. When the only storyline for a sport becomes one horse, who will only run a few more times before going off to stud, it’s not a good thing.
So for anyone out there who may not know, check out the Belmont Stakes, on June 11. There may not be a Kentucky Derby winner in the field, but you’ve got the top two Preakness finishers, the Arkansas Derby winner, and the Blue Grass Stakes winner. It’s one of the best three-year-old races of the year, and it may result in something you’ve never seen before. Check it out.
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.