By Robert D. Bolson
-- While reading about Bob Baffert's recent grousing and nagging displeasure with the Eclipse Awards I was reminded of Ronald Reagan's memorable remark to then-president Jimmy Carter during the second 1980 presidential debate: "There you go again."
And to that I say: Go for it, Bob. Attaboy! It's time for you to take off the gentlemen's gloves for good.
In today's sports world it's showtime, baby. Carpe folly. That means heavy on the hyperbole and hysteria. The actual sporting event is now secondary in America. Hyping for headlines has become the new national pastime. So why shouldn't Thoroughbred racing want its sardonic bad boy to blaze the trail?
I don't have to tell you times have changed. Take a look around. Pierced eyebrows, lips, and navels are en vogue. Flash is where it's at. Good guys and class acts have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Attending a sporting event is no longer enough of a thrill for many of us. We want well-orchestrated "sports entertainment." Americans now prefer a certain degree of sizzle with their sports. We love the big build-up and the taunting. Showmanship has replaced sportsmanship. We want our sports more crass and colorful...and throw in the occasional melee. Today we want spectacle.
If you can't say something good about someone...well, good.
Have you ever heard someone standing around the office coffeepot on Monday morning say, "Did you see how nicely he shook his opponent's hand and displayed a high degree of sportsmanship in last night's game?" To the contrary. We want a little pain, a little humiliation, and a little trickle of blood now and then. Or at least the threat of it.
Americans have always loved a good brouhaha in sports, whether it's real or hype. Ali vs. Frazier in boxing. Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs in tennis. Affirmed vs. Alydar in horse racing. Us vs. them in anything. And now Bob Baffert vs. seemingly the rest of the Thoroughbred racing industry.
Good. Bring it on.
To the would-be peacemakers, I say, knock it off.
Baffert and his critics need to take their rightful place alongside other infamous sports rivalries: The Yankees and the Red Sox. The Redskins and the Cowboys. The Lakers and the Celtics. Until racehorses learn how to speak and talk trash, it'll have to do.
Hello NTRA...Don't you have a Vince McMahon equivalent in your midst? You need one. The sooner the better.
Need more convincing? TV ratings for Olympic ice skating went through the roof just after famed bad girl Tonya Harding and her band of hapless henchmen orchestrated their legendary attack on Nancy Kerrigan in the mid-'90s.
So I say, "Go Bob Go!" Run that mouth. Recent reports and ratings indicate it's working. Last year's Preakness ratings were as high as they've been in over a decade. Coverage of the Belmont Stakes was as high as it's ever been. Clearly, America is taking note. So stir it up.
This is no time to take the high road. Full speed ahead. Stay on course. Serve up those satirically savage soundbites early and often. Hire the writers from "Late Night With David Letterman" if you need to. Just don't stop now. Start hanging out with John Rocker or Bobby Knight if you experience a drought of malevolent things to say. Next time there's a camera crew around, consider chest-bumping D. Wayne Lukas. He probably won't mind.
To Baffert's army of detractors I say, your serve. Crank up the rhetoric, pour it on him, fire back at will. Take your best shot. Shoot first if you'd like. Just keep the momentum going. Quite frankly, Thoroughbred racing needs all the national attention it can get.
Don't be afraid. Don't take Bob's comments personally. Be ready with your own arsenal of witty, acid-tongued retorts. Have some fun with it. Those media microphones and reporter's notebooks are waiting. Do it for your country and for our livelihood.
If that doesn't work, would someone go out and get arrested for goodness sake? Is that too much to ask? And just in case they do, does anyone have the telephone number handy for the National Enquirer? Robert D. Bolson is marketing director for Blood-Horse Publications.