Have you ever found yourself in a strange town on a big-race day and decided to attend a local simulcast outlet? I was in Santa Barbara, Calif., July 15 and tried to take in many of the day's big stakes races at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The experience gave me further evidence of the sad state of California racing, which has an antiquated off-track betting system hitched to the politically strong county fair associations. For a $5 admission charge, patrons might expert to have nicer furnishings than the flea-market quality tables and chairs lined up cafeteria style in the two seedy rooms provided for horse players. Though there were a handful of large-screen monitors, most of the televisions were so small it was difficult to follow the action. There were only 50 or 60 souls on hand to bet on an exciting day of racing. At least one of them plans to never go back.
Keeneland's director of racing, W.B. Rogers Beasley, earlier this year made an interesting case for expansion of the Eclipse Awards from 11 to 15 equine categories (including steeplechasers). Suggested additions were 3-year-old males and 3-year-old fillies on turf, filly and mare sprinters, and turf sprinters. He didn't pull the divisions out of thin air. As a member of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's American Graded Stakes Committee, Beasley has examined the statistics compiled each year for 14 individual categories, evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of unrestricted stakes races valued at $75,000 or higher, and voting to assign a grade I, II, or III classification to the best races. He thinks the Eclipse Awards should mirror the divisions judged by that committee. (Steeplechase races are graded by the National Steeplechase Association.) Beasley polled 30 racing secretaries and received strong support for adding to the Eclipse Awards, then earlier this year sent a letter to D.G. Van Clief Jr., then commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president of the Breeders' Cup. The NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers Association oversee the Eclipse Awards program. Van Clief has since stepped down and the NTRA and Breeders' Cup are being led by interim chief executive officer Greg Avioli, who took over July 1. Given the challenges of his new duties--keeping the NTRA in business is a primary one--I doubt Avioli has given Beasley's initiative much thought in his first few weeks on the job. At some point in the near future, he or someone involved with the Eclipse Awards should give the proposal serious consideration. The addition of a championship for filly and mare sprinters seems like a no-brainer. When the Eclipse Awards were created in 1971, there was just one division for turf horses and one division for sprinters, pitting fillies and mares against colts and geldings for championship consideration. Female turf horses were given their own Eclipse Award beginning in 1979, but filly and mare sprinters still must compete against males for a sprint championship. According to Beasley, there are 41 graded stakes for female sprinters, so there is no shortage of opportunities for this division. Championships for 3-year-old grass horses also seem like a natural extension of the Eclipse Awards. There is a clear delineation between 3-year-old dirt and 3-year-old grass horses, along with a strong calendar of races for the two divisions: 25 graded stakes for colts and geldings and 18 for fillies. I have a harder time warming up to Beasley's final recommendation for an Eclipse Award in the turf sprint category, where the pickings are slim for graded stakes. SIMULCAST HELL