Campbell Opinion: Racing League innovates … take notes, America ...

Doncaster Racecourse in the UK will host the 1st night of what is known as Racing League! Turfwriter J.N. Campbell explains why American horse racing needs to take notice ...
Doncaster Racecourse in the UK will host the 1st night of what is known as Racing League! Turfwriter J.N. Campbell explains why American horse racing needs to take notice ...
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Just as American horseplayers will be making their wagers on the Early Pick 5 at Saratoga (hopefully with no issues), and handicapping the Del Mar card, Doncaster Racecourse will shift into top gear. It is not just any race night on Thursday, as UK punters across the Atlantic will enjoy something that is full of innovation—Racing League (RL). In its second year of existence, if you have not heard about RL, then you are missing out. My colleague Steve Chambers at Horseracing.net has a nice rundown of the particulars. Once again, Thoroughbred racing in the UK and Ireland is setting the bar high and summarily outpacing us Americans. Where is our progressivism and spirit, I ask? How come we don’t have anything like this?

Well, we did at one time. Sort of …

When I was at Lone Star Park (LSP) on “Closing Day” in their Media Office Suite, I was studying several framed photos commemorating what was known as the NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship. The brainchild of Corey Johnsen, then the president of LSP who later helped to resurrect Kentucky Downs, it brought together the sport’s best riders on an annual basis beginning in 1997. Johnsen used it as a way to not only attract the Breeders’ Cup, which he nabbed in 2004, but it brought something fresh to horse racing’s stage for 8 years running. The likes of Gary Stevens, Shane Sellers, Laffit Pincay Jr., Jerry Bailey, Chris McCarron, and Edgar Prado, all hoisted the trophy after amassing points over the course of 4 designated races (LSP issued commemorative steins each year … which can be found on Ebay). An “International” contest was even held just before the BC in October of 2004, with Frankie Dettori participating, among other global riders. The event offered prize money to the jockeys, but it also set aside a portion of the betting on those races for the Disabled Jockey’s Endowment. A worthy cause indeed …   

Looking at those framed photographs made me realize that Johnsen’s light bulb, however fleeting the filament burned, is something sorely missed in American Thoroughbred racing today. We have had our victories in North America to be sure (Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Series, for instance), but I would argue that the UK and Ireland’s RL reaches another level. Not only does this Ryder Cup/Premier League-style competition bring together a unique “team concept” for a sport that is normally fueled by individual achievements, but it also lasts until mid-September; thus, creating something for the collective “us” to wager and watch. Sponsorships are diverse, and with over 125 trainers assembled and some 90 runners participating, the competition for over £2 million is going to be fierce. What I especially like, besides the presence of 49 female and male jockeys, is that 5 venues (Newcastle hosts 2x) will play host to RL. You should go and have a gander at those field sizes, Americans, because they are full to the brim! With local exposure in mind, generating “buzz” for tracks that perhaps are not the Ascots and Newmarkets of the world, was an excellent move. Unlike the BC, which regularly goes to only a handful of locations, this spreads the wealth. Some major broadcasting will take place too, with both Sky Sports Racing and ITV involved; plus, with all the races taking place on a Thursday evening, it has the potential to attract folks that might not otherwise tune-in.

Posing the question again … Why can’t Americans put something like this together? Team Rosario v. Team Irad? Team SoCal v. Team GP? Yes, please ...

In America, are we too busy skirmishing in the courts over the validity of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA)? Concerned about the Baffert-Zedan-Medina Spirit reinstatement imbroglio? Worried whether New York State Gaming Commission will enforce their own rules after a NYRA track makes a late surface switch that detrimentally impacts a horizontal wager? I digress … What I do know is that RL organizers opened themselves to new ideas after last year’s inaugural season, and found ways to improve on their model. Listening, rather than just talking, is always a superb approach. Want to attract new fans to the sport, America? Take notes when it comes to the latest edition of the UK and Ireland’s Racing League …

I know what results I will be watching on Thursday afternoons for the next month … By the way, that Wales & the West Team, they look pretty formidable.

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