Make Them Talk

You can call it the World Thoroughbred Championships, but from a journalist's perspective, there is one major way in which this event is far different from the World Series, Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, Stanley Cup, etc.

After major sporting events, players and coaches are escorted to a media room, where journalists have a few minutes to ask questions. With so much at stake, and the competitive nature of athletes, it must be extremely hard for some players and coaches to show up and face those whose job it is to question every move they make.

But they do.

They understand the public wants to know their feelings. They also don't have a choice--their league office demands it of them.

Not in racing. We don't demand it; we ask. That is not the right approach.

On Oct. 27 at Belmont Park, there was a media press conference following each of the eight Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships races. After three of the races, the winning trainer did not show up.

These are winners we're talking about.

Losers are another thing altogether. Racing is different in this regard. In the Super Bowl, there is only one losing coach. In a 14-horse field, there are 13 losing trainers and 13 losing jockeys. Journalists fend for themselves if they want to interview one of those participants.

The difference is everyone wants to talk to the winning connections. So to avoid a feeding frenzy, a media room provides equal access, and the winning owner, trainer, and jockey need only answer questions once.

There is no excuse for Bobby Frankel, Andre Fabre, and Saaed bin Suroor to not show up and talk to the media.

If the reason is they have other horses to saddle on the day, that is completely understandable. Journalists are more than happy to wait until after the day's final race to conduct their interviews.

For this magazine, I covered the Sprint, won by Squirtle Squirt. Every race has numerous story angles. The obvious one here was the first Breeders' Cup victory for Frankel.

I understood that Frankel may have been upset by the earlier performances of beaten favorites Flute and You, and I knew he had three more horses to saddle after the Sprint. Those wanting to interview Frankel were more than willing to wait until after the day's final race, the Classic.

Those in charge of the interview room--from the NTRA and SFX, the latter an outside firm hired to direct publicity for the Breeders' Cup--indicated to members of the media they would "try" to get Frankel after the Classic.

That was laughable.

David Lanzman, the owner of Squirtle Squirt, came to the interview room with his whole family. When I needed to ask more questions, he stood in the tunnel between the paddock and track and patiently answered them.

Jerry Bailey, who rode Squirtle Squirt, had a mount in all eight races. He was not available after the Sprint. After the Classic, I waited outside the jockeys' room for 15 minutes. When Bailey exited, he gave me the time I needed.

Frankel may have been upset with the way his day went. Fabre and bin Suroor probably had their own reasons not to be interviewed.

There is nothing wrong with being upset about losing. Hell, it's normal. But these trainers didn't lose ... they won.

Many owners were not in attendance. No one second-guessed Sheikh Mohammed, for example, for not attending. But his representatives, John Ferguson and Simon Crisford, did, and neither was escorted to the interview room.

I have a suggestion for the Breeders' Cup/NTRA. Include an entry provision that demands participants agree to attend press conferences both before and after the event. Quit treating these people like they are prima donnas. Make them accountable to the sport they participate in.

When players in other sports run astray of the league office, they are hit with hefty fines. Suggestion No. 2: don't show, don't get paid; winning trainers and jockeys who shun the media have their cut of the purse reduced.

If you don't want to talk about yourself, your mood, your past, that's fine. But how about talking about the race you just won?

DAN LIEBMAN is The Blood-Horse executive editor.